Animal rights trio jailed for inciting lab harassment

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The Independent Online

Three leading animal rights activists were jailed after orchestrating a campaign of harassment aimed at closing the Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratory.

The husband and wife, and a second woman, produced newsletters that encouraged supporters to "smash" staff at the animal testing laboratory in Cambridgeshire and send them, and shareholders, unwanted parcels, letters, faxes and telephone calls. Campaigners were also urged to arrange for unwanted mail order parcels to be delivered to the targets' homes to ruin their credit ratings.

Some victims felt as if they were prisoners in their own homes, frightened and disturbed by barrages of letters and parcels, the court heard.

One was sent 10 to 20 letters a day, another spent every Saturday returning piles of unwanted packages, anxious not to lose his credit rating. Many of the 750 employees were preyed on and their details were published in newsletters.

The three, each of whom was jailed for 12 months with half the sentence suspended, also harassed NatWest bank, the former financial backer of Huntingdon Life Sciences, by printing stickers to put on cash machines and telling supporters to clog up the bank's telephone lines.

Greg Avery, 35, of Coventry, his wife, Heather Avery, 34, of Streetly, West Midlands, and Natasha Dallemagne, 33, of Enfield, north London, all pleaded guilty at Basildon Crown Court to conspiracy to incite a public nuisance.

The three Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty activists produced a series of newsletters from a farm in Coventry between November 1999 and August 2000 until they were arrested.

John Farmer, for the prosecution, said of the victims: "It is the sheer persistence of it again and again – the deadening effect on their lives of these shoals of letters coming through time and time again. In the end, they did not bother to open them."

In all, six newsletters were published and between 5,000 and 10,000 copies sent out on each occasion. Mr Farmer said Huntingdon Life Sciences was "a lawfully conducted company carrying out its business".

Greg and Heather Avery, longstanding animal rights campaigners, have previous similar convictions. Last year, he was jailed for four months for threatening to kill a member of HLS staff.

Sentencing the three, Judge Zoe Smith said: "You advocated and encouraged a campaign of harassment against employees, shareholders and financial backers of Huntingdon Life Sciences. You orchestrated a campaign against shareholders and workers in their own homes. The language used ... was strong, saying of employees 'Let's smash them'.

"The effect was to cause stress and strain. Witnesses spoke of feeling violated, frightened and ill and it is clear you were aware of the effect and the stress they suffered."

In the past two years, staff at Huntingdon Life Sciences have come under physical attack from animal rights extremists. The director of marketing was sprayed in the face with ammonia last December and Brian Cass, the managing director, was severely beaten in February by three assailants armed with baseball bats.

James Wood QC, for the defence, said: "Their intention was to conduct a lawful but vigorous campaign. The rules at the edge are blurred and the consequences of what the defendants did crossed the line. For the future, they remain committed to a lawful campaign."