25 Oct 2010

Animal rights activists jailed

Five animal rights activists who intimidated companies linked to animal testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences in an attempt to shut down the facility have been jailed.

The activists, all members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac), were sentenced to between six years and 15 months in prison.

Sentencing at Winchester Crown Court, the Recorder of Winchester Judge Keith Cutler said the campaign waged by the group against companies linked to Huntingdon Life Sciences had been “synonymous with intimidation, violence and terror.”

He added: “The action was taken in order to distress and terrify, and in that you were successful.”

Prison sentences
Sarah Whitehead, Nicole Vosper, Thomas Harris, Jason Mullan and Nicola Tapping all received prison sentences for their roles in the campaign, which included hoax bombs, criminal damage, and threats of violence.

The sixth member of the conspiracy, Alfie Fitzpatrick – who was only 17 when he became involved – received a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years, and was ordered to complete 100 hours of community work.

Threats and hoaxes
The intimidation was directed towards a host of Huntingdon supply companies, the court heard. Some directors of these companies had leaflets distributed near their homes, falsely telling neighbours they were convicted paedophiles.Others received used tampons through the post, with notes saying the blood was HIV positive.

Other intimidation tactics included painting words such as “puppy killer” or “scum” on peoples’ houses or cars.

The court heard the total costs in damage and increased security was around £12.6m to the 40 companies targeted.

Other members of Shac have already been jailed, including its founders Gregg Avery, Natasha Avery and Heather Nicholson, who were imprisoned in January for blackmailing companies linked to Huntingdon Life Sciences.

Not martyrs
Judge Cutler added the lawful activities of Shac were a “thin veneer” and it was aimed at intimidation, although he accepted the beliefs of the six against animal research laboratories were “fiercely held”.

He quoted Mr Justice Butterfield, who sentenced other members of the conspiracy, saying: “I expect you will be seen by some as martyrs for a noble cause but that would be wholly misplaced.

“You are not going to prison for expressing your beliefs, you are going to prison because you have committed a serious criminal offence.”

Of those jailed today, Ms Whitehead was jailed for six years as the Judge suggested she had led and “corrupted” younger members. She also received a 10-year Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) banning her from taking part in animal rights activities.

Ms Vosper was jailed for three and a half years, Mr Mullan for three years and Mr Harris for four years, all of whom the judge said had been involved in or fully aware of what was happening, or on the “front line”.

Ms Tapping, who the judge said was not on the “front line”, received a 15-month jail term. All received five-year ASBOs.

Police said that since the Shac arrests in 2007, animal rights extremism had fallen dramatically.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Robbins from Kent Police, who led the operation, said: “Such tactics have no place in a democratic society and in no way reflect the peaceful protests carried out by the vast majority of legitimate animal welfare campaigners.”