Animal rights extremists seeking to close down a guinea pig farm used a civil servant to obtain the addresses of drivers supplying the establishment and attack their homes, a court heard yesterday.
Barry Dickinson, who works at a regional office of the DVLA, entered the vehicle-licensing agency's central computers to obtain 13 addresses from number plates on vehicles which were seen arriving at Darley Oaks Farm in Staffordshire. The information was then used to target four homes where militants smashed windows, daubed paint on cars and, in one case, placed a hosepipe through a letter box before turning on the tap.
The farm, which supplies animal-testing laboratories, has been the subject of a five-year campaign for its closure which took a macabre turn earlier this month when the body of the mother-in-law of its owner was dug up from her grave.
Dickinson, 34, was jailed for five months yesterday after he admitted providing the data which allowed the campaigners to "identify, intimidate and terrorise" suppliers and contractors to the farm. The conviction followed a lengthy investigation by Staffordshire Police, which has so far spent £1.5m protecting the farm and its workers against what officers have described as the "terrorist tactics" of the extremists.
Speaking after the sentencing of Dickinson at Stafford Crown Court, Inspector David Bird, head of the investigation, said: "This crime was a breach of trust of the highest order - he abused his position as a public servant. He knew exactly what he was doing with the information he obtained and what this was going to be used for. As such, he was as involved and responsible as the extremists who actually committed these acts."
The conviction of Dickinson, who admitted misconduct in a public office between June 2003 and last December, highlights an increasing sophistication in the methods used by militant anti-vivisectionists. His conviction comes just four weeks after grave robbers stole the remains of Gladys Hammond, the mother of Margaret Hall, who is married to Chris Hall - one of three brothers who run the farm.
The desecration was the latest in the five-year campaign conducted against Darley Oaks, which has seen 50 incidents of violence and intimidation, including bricks thrown through windows, phone lines severed and packages of dried dog excrement left on doorsteps.