UK animal rights activist convicted in blackmail plot

19th March 2014, Comments 0 comments

A British animal rights activist has been found guilty of involvement in a 10-year campaign of intimidation to try to shut down Huntingdon Life Sciences, a major animal testing company.

Debbie Vincent, 52, was convicted on Tuesday of being part of a plot by Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac) to blackmail suppliers and customers across Europe to force them to stop trading with the Cambridge-based company.

Seven members of Shac were jailed for a total of 50 years in 2009 over the conspiracy, after which Vincent became the public face of the group, prosecutors said.

Vincent, who was arrested in July 2012, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit blackmail.

Militant members of the group falsely accused people involved with HLS of being paedophiles, sent them hoax bombs and sanitary towels claimed to be infected with AIDS, and caused criminal damage to their cars and homes.

In May 2009, activists even dug up a grave in Switzerland and removed an urn containing the ashes of the mother of Daniel Vasella, then chairman of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, one of HLS' suppliers.

He was sent an email saying: "You have 2 choices Mr Vasella: lose HLS or lose the urn," prosecutors said, adding that the urn was never recovered.

Other employees of Novartis were also targeted, including some in Germany where activists painted "murderer" and other slogans on their homes.

Prosecutors said the group's main tactic was to publish the names of companies linked to HLS on the Shac website, making them targets for its militant activists.

"The prosecution did not allege that Debbie Vincent herself had committed any of the direct action offences," prosecutor Alastair Nisbet said.

"But the jury has found her guilty of knowingly being involved in an agreement with others to pursue the objective of Shac by such threatening and intimidating actions."

Vincent was released on bail and will be sentenced on April 17.

Two other people arrested in the Netherlands at the same time as Vincent, Swiss-born Sven van Hasselt and German-born Briton Natasha Simpkins, are still awaiting extradition to Britain to face the same charges, the court heard.


© 2014 AFP

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