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Huntingdon Life Sciences blackmail plotters guilty

23/12/2008

The conviction of seven animal rights activists for threatening and intimidating people and companies that they suspected were associated with Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) marks the end of a prolonged and sustained campaign of threats, intimidation and damage to property, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) reviewing lawyer Alastair Nisbet said today.

Mr Nisbet, head of the CPS Wessex Complex Casework Unit, praised the victims, some of whom suffered prolonged intimidation and untrue allegations of paedophilia, for their courage in giving evidence during the three month trial.

Three of the defendants, Gregg and Natasha Avery and Dan Amos, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to blackmail before the trial started. Four others, Heather Nicholson, Gavin Medd-Hall, Daniel Wadham, and Gerrah Selby, were found guilty by the jury at Winchester Crown Court. Trevor Holmes was acquitted. The prosecution argued that all of the defendants were leading members of a group called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC).

Mr Nisbet said: "The sole aim of SHAC was to close down the business of Huntingdon Life Sciences in Cambridgeshire because they use animals in the testing of pharmaceutical products. That testing is required by UK and European legislation, is licensed and is lawful.

"Three of the accused pleaded guilty to conspiring to blackmail companies and persons who they thought were, however peripherally, associated with HLS. The victims were just carrying out their normal business but were nonetheless themselves described as "criminals" and subjected to a prolonged and sustained campaign of threats, intimidation and damage to their property. That stopped when they capitulated and undertook with SHAC never again to do business with HLS. Some of those victims have, with considerable courage, come to court to give very moving evidence of their experiences."

The conspirators subjected their victims to various forms of intimidation, said Mr Nisbet, including noisy protests outside their business premises, abusive telephone calls, e-mails and letters, threat of or actual damage to property, threat of physical assault, untrue allegations of paedophilia, hoax bombs and demonstrations and damage at the homes of members of staff (so-called 'home visits').

Mr Nisbet outlined the international nature of the group's activities: "These conspirators were also linked to criminal activities in Europe and America, targeting companies there, and I am very grateful to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in various countries for their invaluable assistance in gathering evidence of their activities abroad, all of which helped to prove the existence of the conspiracy in England and their participation in it.

"This has been a long and very detailed investigation which was made all the more difficult by the fact that the defendants concealed their criminal activities behind a cloak of lawful protest; by their use of encryption and file wiping software on their computers; and by the routine destruction of any documents that they thought might incriminate them."

He concluded: "They have constantly asserted that they take only lawful actions in pursuit of their campaign. Their guilty pleas and the jury's decisions have nailed that lie once and for all.

"I would like to pay tribute to all the investigators and prosecutors and others who have worked together so well as a team to achieve this outcome today."

Ends

  1. For further information, contact CPS press office on 020 7796 8079
  2. Out of Hours Pager: 07799 656915
  3. All defendants in this trial were charged with conspiracy to blackmail contrary to section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977.
  4. The particulars of the charge are that they between the 15th day of November 2001 and the 2nd day of May 2007 conspired together and with others to blackmail representatives of companies and businesses and other persons whom they suspected of being associated with Huntingdon Life Sciences Plc by making unwarranted demands, namely to cease lawful trading with HLS, with menaces and with intent to cause loss to another.
  5. The maximum sentence for this offence is 14 years imprisonment. Sentencing will take place on 19 January 2009.
  6. Gregg Avery, Natasha Avery and Dan Amos pleaded guilty on 30 July 2008 to the offence with which they had been charged in May 2007. This was the day before the date on which the trial judge had indicated that the maximum discount in sentence for a guilty plea would cease to be available.
  7. Seven others, Thomas William HARRIS, Nicola May TAPPING, Sarah Catherine WHITEHEAD, Nicole Patricia VOSPER, Jason Peter MULLAN, Janet Claire LAWRENCE and Alfie Edward FITZPATRICK have been charged with the same offence of conspiracy to blackmail. The media are asked to ensure that any reporting of the first trial does not prejudice the trial of the above-named accused.
  8. The investigation has resulted in the prosecution of some others:
    • Suzanne Jaggers - convicted after trial at Leeds Crown Court of blackmail and sentenced to 9 months' imprisonment
    • Diane Jamieson - pleaded guilty at Preston Crown Court to six counts of committing an offence under section 145 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and a sentence of imprisonment for 51 weeks was imposed, suspended for 2 years
    • Graham Berry - pleaded guilty at Winchester Crown Court to theft of a document and ordered to undertake 100 hours Community Service
    • Philip Malkin - pleaded guilty at Winchester Crown Court to an offence under section 145 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and ordered to undertake 80 hours Community Service.
  9. The Crown Prosecution Service is the independent authority responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales. It is responsible for:
    • Advising the police and reviewing the evidence on cases for possible prosecution
    • Deciding the charge where the decision is to prosecute
    • Preparing cases for court
    • Presenting cases at court
  10. The CPS consists of 42 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales. The CPS employs around 8,400 people and prosecuted 1,091,250 cases with an overall conviction rate of 85.1% in 2007-2008. Further information can be found on the CPS website.
  11. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. The Protocol is published on our website at: