Body stolen during farm protest is found

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The Independent Online

Police investigating the theft of a pensioner's body from a graveyard have discovered remains buried in woodland that are believed to be her.

Acting on new information, police located the remains yesterday near a war cemetery for Germans, at at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, 13 miles from her original burial plot at Yoxall.

The body of Gladys Hammond was stolen from a churchyard in October 2004. Mrs Hammond, who died in 1997 aged 82, was the mother-in-law of Chris Hall, the co-owner of a farm where guinea pigs were bred for medical research and who has been a frequent target of animal rights extremists.

The police breakthrough came 10 days before four people are due to be sentenced at Nottingham Crown Court for conspiracy to blackmail the Darley Oaks Farm at Newchurch, near Yoxall.

The Rev Jenny Lister, rector of Yoxall, who laid flowers yesterday at the grassed-over spot from where the remains were stolen, said the discovery was an "answer to prayer". She said: "I hope that when the body is identified it proves to be that of Mrs Hammond, so her remains can be laid to rest once again."

Acting on new directions, police identified a narrow depression 20ft from a bridle path leading through woodland near the German war cemetery, where 4,000 servicemen who died in Britain during the two world wars are buried.

Detective Chief Inspector Nick Baker, who is leading the inquiry, said the remains would undergo DNA tests, the results of which could take several days. "Although I know questions still need to be answered, I am hopeful that this may prove to be the development that we and Gladys Hammond's family have been waiting for," he said. "Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time as they await further news."

In a statement issued by Staffordshire Police, Mrs Hammond's daughters, Janet Palmer and Margaret Hall, both expressed hope that the remains were those of their mother. "We do hope for a positive identification of my mother and that we can return her to her rightful resting place," said Mrs Hall.

The four people awaiting sentence for their involvement in the conspiracy against Darley Oaks have been warned that they face long jail terms. Kerry Whitburn, John Smith, John Ablewhite and Josephine Mayo all pleaded guilty last month to taking part in the six-year campaign, which culminated in the theft of the pensioner's body.