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Four blackmailed animal researchers over 6 years; Up to 14 years' jail for campaign of intimidation.

Byline: Lesley Richardson

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

Gerrah Selby, 20, Daniel Wadham, 21, Gavin Medd-Hall, 45, Heather Nicholson, 41, and Trevor Holmes, 51, were accused of orchestrating a campaign which ran between 2001 and 2007.

All five denied conspiracy to blackmail but Selby, Wadham, Medd-Hall and Nicholson were found guilty at Winchester Crown Court. Holmes 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 with Huntingdon Life Sciences in Cambridge.

One of the features of intimidation included sending used sanitary towels in the post, saying they were contaminated with the Aids virus, and personal campaigns against the management of companies including daubing roads outside their homes with words like "Puppy Killer".

Nicholson from Eversley, Hampshire, was a founder member of Shac, who 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 was a computer and research expert in Shac and uncovered company links with HLS.

Wadham from Bromley joined Shac in 2005 and regularly attended demonstrations against the firms and HLS.

Selby from Chiswick was also a regular activist at demonstrations in the UK and abroad, 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.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Robbins, senior investigating officer of Kent Police, said outside court: "The verdict reflects the continuing commitment of law enforcement and the Crown Prosecution Service 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 in May 2007.

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

CPS reviewing lawyer Alastair Nisbet said outside court: "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 documents that might incriminate them."

HLS defended its right to use animal testing as part of researching and developing medicines.

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

The case is another example of the lengths some animal rights extremists are prepared to go to.

Activists opposed to a farm where guinea pigs were bred for research in Yoxall, Staffordshire, dug up the grave of Gladys Hammond, the mother-in-law of one of the owners, in October 2004, as part of a hate campaign which led to the farm's closure.

CAPTION(S):

FOUND GUILTY: Criminal damage with threats, top, by animal rights activists. The four who were found guilty of blackmail at Winchester Crown Court yesterday are, from left, Daniel Wadham, Gavin Medd-Hall, Gerrah Selby and Heather Nicholson
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 24, 2008
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