Animal rights group ends 15-year campaign against experiments at Huntingdon

Activists have changed their tactics due to an 'onslaught of government repression'

CRIME CORRESPONDENT

Animal rights leaders have ended their high-profile campaign against a testing centre after 15 years of intimidation and direct action that broke new ground with the sophisticated targeting of the centre's City backers.

The campaign led to the jailing of dozens of activists and a change in the law to counter the guerrilla tactics of the group that targeted financial institutions, suppliers, contractors and directors of the Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) testing centre in Cambridgeshire.

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac) and its supporters embarked on what one judge called a "ruthless, sustained campaign" making false allegations of child abuse, sending hoax bombs and delivering sanitary towels allegedly contaminated with the Aids virus to try to traumatise staff.

But new laws and a police crackdown on the organisation have led to protests running at a low level for years, prompting Shac to announce the end of its campaign, due to what it called the "onslaught of government repression" against the animal rights movement.

During the campaign, the leaders targeted more than 40 companies to try to force them to sever their links with HLS. Brian Cass, HLS managing director, was attacked outside his home with a pickaxe handle. Supporters torched employees' cars and claimed to have sunk the boat of an executive from an American bank that was supporting HLS.

 

The company survived – but only after losing a series of financial backers and temporarily re-listing in the United States to protect the identities of its investors before a change in the law in Britain. The government – which faced accusations of failing to protect the bioscience industry – spent more than £1m on protection for the testing centre.

Legislation, a string of injunctions and a pan-European police operation that led to the arrests of 32 people in 2007 effectively broke the back of the movement and led to the jailing of its leadership. Six members of the US branch of Shac were also jailed in 2006.

Legal action is continuing against anti-HLS protesters with the last major figure of the movement, Debbie Vincent, jailed for six years earlier this year for blackmail. In a statement on the Shac website under the heading: "We made history … the future is ours", the group said it had run the "biggest and most effective grassroots animal rights campaign the world has ever seen".

"After more than 10 years of organising the SHAC campaign and having sent shockwaves throughout the entire vivisection industry, our opposition has evolved. The global animal abuse and legal landscapes have changed and so it's time for us too, to change our tactics. With the onslaught of government repression against animal rights activists in the UK, it's time to reassess our methods, obstacles and opponent's weaknesses, to build up our solidarity network for activists and to start healing the affects [sic] of repression."

The leaders, Gregg Avery, his wife, Natasha, and his former wife, Heather Nicholson, were jailed in 2009 for their role in the protests. They targeted firms and staff in Britain, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland and the cost of damage and security ran to £12.6m, their trial was told.

Mr Avery started the campaign against HLS in 1999 after becoming involved in a series of actions, freeing cats and beagles from breeding centres. He told one interviewer there was a hard core of about 10 campaigners but that HLS was "in the middle of nowhere", so it was most effective to hit the company financially. He denied Shac was involved in violent acts and blamed the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) – which had shared supporters – for the most extreme acts. ALF spokesman Robin Webb said that Shac took "secondary picketing" tactics from the union movement. "Other environmental campaigners have taken a lot from Shac's example over the years," he said. "They kept animal rights in the public eye."

HLS – which made a marginal profit on turnover of £73m in its last published figures in 2012 – conducted animal testing for the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. In a statement, the company said: "The decision by Shac to end the campaign is welcomed by Huntingdon Life Sciences and all those associated with the company. "Even during the early years when extremism was at its height HLS still managed to successfully grow its research business. The UK environment for the use of animals in biomedical research has improved greatly in recent years, and this is the result of action taken by law enforcement agencies to control animal rights extremism."

A Shac activist said the group was now seeking to influence the Government into changing the law to prevent animal cruelty.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness