Animal activists convicted in US of inciting terror

UK business leaders fail to back campaign against extremists as SHAC protesters found guilty
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A US court convicted an animal rights group and six of its members yesterday of using violence and terror in their campaign against the animal testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences.

After a three week trial, the jury at the federal court in New Jersey found the group, known as Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), guilty on six counts including animal enterprise terrorism, which carries a sentence of up to three years and $250,000 fines.

The US conviction comes as the British pharmaceuticals industry is trying to rally UK businesses behind a call to "banish [animal rights] extremists to the margins of society".

During the trial, the court heard that SHAC in the US had posted on the web personal information about employees of HLS and companies that do business with HLS. Many of those targeted had received threats and had their homes vandalised.

One defendant, Joshua Harper, told the court he opposed injuring any life form, including human beings, but said he thought it all right to throw rocks through someone's window if they were not home.

Other counts the group was found guilty on include stalking and conspiracy to engage in stalking and telephone harassment.

SHAC was founded in the UK in 1999 to campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences, the largest animal testing company in Europe, and companies that did business with HLS.

The UK group is at pains to stress on its website that although the campaign is "truly global", it "does not encourage or incite illegal activity". It adds that the groups are run by activists in each country and "it has no control over other SHAC groups' websites or activities". The American group's website last night had been shut down.

The campaign in the UK by SHAC and other groups led to HLS delisting from the London Stock Exchange and moving its headquarters to Maryland in the US, where shareholders are allowed anonymity under state law. An attempt to relist the shares in the US was blocked by the New York Stock Exchange last year.

Britain's business community proved reluctant to throw its weight yesterday behind the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry's open letter this week calling company leaders to stand up to animal rights activists.

The letter came after a rally at the weekend supporting an animal research laboratory in Oxford, which had triggered threats from the Animal Liberation Front against donors to Oxford University.

Several organisations, including the CBI and the ABI declined to comment yesterday. Ian Mullen, the British Bankers' Association's, chief executive, said: "These are single-issue extremists the same as any terrorists and the Government is treating them as such. The industry supports the Government in this regard." The Royal Bank of Scotland, which withdrew banking services to the animal testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences in 2002 after itself becoming a target of animal rights activists, said it would consider the letter carefully once it received it. The banking giant HSBC reiterated its "broad support for medical research as a whole and its determination to continue to provide banking services to this important sector."