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North animal rights activist cleared by jury; But four are convicted over campaign.

Byline: Sam Wood

AN animal rights activist from the North East who was accused of blackmailing companies that supplied Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) was yesterday cleared by a jury.

Trevor Holmes, 51, of Newcastle, was found not guilty at Winchester Crown Court.

He was charged along with four others, all of whom were convicted.

Gerrah Selby, 20, Daniel Wadham, 21, Gavin Medd-Hall, 45, Heather Nicholson, 41, and Mr Holmes, were alleged to have orchestrated the campaign which ran between 2001 and 2007.

All five denied 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 (HLS), based in Cambridge. Mr Holmes was alleged to be a senior member of Shac who took part in criminal damage in the UK, the court heard.

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.

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".

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.

Det Chief Insp 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.

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 biomedical research, or to support organisations that perform such research, without being harassed and threatened.

"The UK environment for such biomedical research has improved greatly in recent years, and this is the direct result of positive action taken by law enforcement agencies to control animal rights extremism.

"As a consequence, we have seen greater openness in the research community that must lead to improved dialogue and better understanding - animal research remains a small but essential part of such research."

Freedom of expression and lawful protest are important rights in our democratic society

CAPTION(S):

JURY DECIDES Left, animal rights activist Trevor Holmes, 51, who has been cleared of blackmail charges. Right, a police video grab of a raid by animal rights activists.; EVIDENCE Kent Police issued photos of criminal damage done by animal rights activists targeting companies that supplied Huntingdon Life Sciences.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 24, 2008
Words:558
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