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Activists face jail for hate campaign; Four guilty of blackmail.

Byline: BY LESLEY RICHARDSON Daily Post Correspondent

FOUR animals rights activists face up to 14 years in jail after being found guilty of blackmailing companies who supplied Huntingdon Life Sciences.

Gerrah Selby, 20, Daniel Wadham, 21, Gavin Medd-Hall, 45, and Heather Nicholson, 41 were accused of orchestrating a campaign between 2001 and 2007.

They all denied conspiracy to blackmail but Selby, Wadham, Medd-Hall and Nicholson were found guilty yesterday at Winchester Crown Court. A fifth accused, Trevor Holmes, 51, was cleared of the charge.

One of the jurors refused to be seen in court while the verdict was announced, after 33 hours and 48 minutes of deliberation.

Selby, Wadham and Medd-Hall were released on conditional bail, while Nicholson was remanded in custody until sentencing on January 19.

The maximum sentence for the offence is 14 years imprisonment.

Three other people - Gregg Avery, Natasha Avery and Daniel Amos - previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to blackmail.

The hierarchy of the group, called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac), used threats such as claiming that managers of the companies were paedophiles, hoax bomb parcels, criminal damage and threatening telephone calls to force them to cut links with the animal testing company.

The aim was to target suppliers or any company with a secondary link to Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), based in Cambridge.

Nicholson, from Eversley, in Hampshire, was a founder member of Shac, and managed the "menacing" campaigns against the firms who were named on the group's website.

The blackmail would only stop when they put out a "capitulation statement" to Shac saying they would not supply HLS, which conducts animal testing for the pharmaceutical industry.

Medd-Hall, from Croydon, south London, was a computer and research expert who uncovered company links with HLS.

Wadham, from Bromley, London, joined Shac in 2005 and regularly attended demonstrations.

Selby, from Chiswick, London, was also a regular activist at demonstrations in the UK and Europe, including a violent protest in Paris.

Holmes, from Newcastle upon Tyne, was alleged to be a senior member of Shac who took part in criminal damage in the UK, the court heard.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Robbins, senior investigating officer of Kent Police, said outside court: "Today's verdict reflects the continuing commitment of law enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to bring to justice those who seek to repress reasonable discussion and who commit serious offences in the name of animal rights."

He paid tribute to the victims of the "systematic and relentless intimidation" which lasted for six years until arrests were made on May 1, 2007.

The defendants were linked to criminal activity in Europe and America.

An HLS spokesman said: "Freedom of expression and lawful protest are important rights in our democratic society but so, too, is the right to conduct vital bio-medical research, or to support organisations that perform such research, without being harassed and threatened."

CAPTION(S):

Daniel Wadham; Heather Nicholson; Gerrah Selby; Gavin Medd-Hall
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 24, 2008
Words:487
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