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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 May 2006, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Four jailed in grave-theft case
Gladys Hammond
Gladys Hammond's body was taken from a grave in October 2004
Four animal rights activists have been jailed for waging a campaign of terror against a family which included digging up a grandmother's grave.

The Hall family were targeted for six years by activists who aimed to stop them breeding guinea pigs for research.

Jon Ablewhite, 36, of Manchester, Kerry Whitburn, 36, and John Smith, 39, both of the West Mids, were jailed for 12 years for conspiracy to blackmail.

Josephine Mayo, 38, of Birmingham, was jailed for four years.

They targeted David Hall and Partners, a family business which ran the breeding programme at a farm in Newchurch, Staffordshire.

The campaign included protests outside Darley Oaks Farm, a burglary in which 600 guinea pigs were freed and threats to family members, friends and employees.

I feel that I have been in a war and under siege for six years
Christopher Hall

But it was the theft of Gladys Hammond's body from a graveyard in nearby Yoxall in October 2004 that "appalled and disgusted people nationwide", said Det Ch Insp Nick Baker.

"Today's lengthy sentences send a strong message to people who might be considering doing anything similar.

"While lawful protestors have nothing to fear, single issue extremists will be caught and strongly punished for their offences," he said after the sentencing.

The Hall family ceased their guinea pig breeding programme in January this year.

(Clockwise from top left) Jon Ablewhite, John Smith, Josephine Mayo, Kerry Whitburn
The four were described as "terrorists" by one of their victims

Mrs Hammond's body was discovered on Cannock Chase last week after Smith told police where to find it. Her remains are to be reburied at St Peter's Churchyard.

She was mother-in-law to John Hall, who ran the farm with his brother Christopher.

A Hall family statement said: "We struggle to comprehend how anyone could conceive such a plan. We could only assume they were devoid of any emotions.

"Animal rights extremists used psychological warfare, verbal abuse, criminal acts and very offensive propaganda in their quest to close our business".

In a statement read out in court Christopher Hall said: "I feel that I have been in a war and under siege for six years.

"These activists are terrorists, they have run a terrorist campaign against our business."

The activists researched their targets on the internet as their campaign spread from the Hall family to anyone associated with them.

Bricks were thrown through windows, death threats made to farm workers, pyrotechnics set off outside their homes and hundreds of malicious letters sent.

One was sent to May Hudson, a cleaner at the farm, saying they would dig up her husband's grave.

"They dedicated themselves to their cause - 24 hours a day, seven days a week - devastating dozens of lives and striking fear into a whole community," said Mr Baker.

'Significant' result

Aisling Burnand, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association, commented: "The fact that these individuals have been given such significant sentences is a clear indication that the activities of animal rights extremists will not be tolerated and are being treated extremely seriously.

"We congratulate the efforts of the police and crown prosecution service in bringing these individuals to justice."

And Alistair Currie, the campaigns director of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said. "We hope that the sentencing of the activists who have admitted responsibility for the utterly unacceptable tactics used against Darley Oaks Farm will mark the end of this depressing chapter.

"This was an ugly campaign against an ugly business. These four people must face the consequences of their crimes but we are now anxious to see the focus of this debate go back to where it belongs on the waste and animal suffering that takes place inside the labs."

Hear details of the sentences handed down

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