Last leader of violent animal rights group jailed for six years

Debbie Vincent was part of group that falsely accused Huntingdon Life Sciences workers of being paedophiles, posted sanitary towels claimed to be infected with AIDS, and desecrated the grave of the mother of a pharmaceutical company director

Crime Correspondent

The last ringleader of a longrunning campaign against a Cambridge-based animal testing centre has been jailed for six years to complete the effective dismantling of a violent organisation that exported its tactics across Europe and the US.

Debbie Vincent, 52, was part of a conspiracy to target suppliers and customers of Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) that included falsely accusing staff members of being paedophiles, posting sanitary towels claimed to be infected with AIDS, and desecrating the grave of the mother of a pharmaceutical company director.

Vincent was given a long jail term even though prosecutors accepted that she had not been involved in any of the attacks during a mainland European campaign. Industry backers said that a government crackdown, heavy sentences and police undercover operations against Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac) in Britain had driven activists abroad to spread tactics and link up with other activists.

Vincent had worked closely with the founders of Shac – Gregg and Natasha Avery – who were among seven people convicted in 2009 after an operation that snared some of the key figures of the organisation and drastically cut its level of operations.

The campaign had broken new ground in direct action campaigns by targeting suppliers, shareholders and customers over the organisation that faced financial ruin. HLS re-headquartered its offices in the United States in attempt to preserve shareholder confidentiality before returning to Britain following new legislation introduced specifically to target the threats. Six activists there were jailed for up to six years in 2006 

The cost to the company of a European campaign in extra security and criminal damage was put at more than £1 million, the court heard.

Speaking before she was sentenced, Vincent said she intended to appeal the guilty verdict last month over claims that her legal team had not received documents linked to an undercover operation that resulted in her arrest.

“I feel I’m a total scapegoat,” she said. “I didn’t feel I ever crossed the line. Animal rights activists are non-hierarchical individuals, they do their own thing. There’s always been international campaigns been going on.”

At Winchester Crown Court, Judge Keith Cutler told the former soldier, who had a sex-change operation, that nothing could justify such attacks.

"These measures were used with the fear and terror they caused, indeed some aspects of the case indicate the activists enjoyed causing such terror,” he said.

Vincent helped organise a demonstration and gave a speech in April 2008 at demonstration at HLS supplier, the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, in Horsham, West Sussex. The protest was followed by vandalism attacks on the homes of Novartis employees In Germany where slogans such as "murderer" were painted on their homes. In May 2009, the grave of the mother of Novartis’s chairman, Dr Daniel Vasella, was dug up and an urn containing her ashes were stolen. An email sent to Dr Vasella on 18 August 2009 said: "You have 2 choices Mr Vasella: lose HLS or lose the urn." It was never returned.

Vincent was arrested in July 2012 at the same time as Swiss-born Sven van Hasselt and Briton Natasha Simpkins were detained in the Netherlands. They await extradition to Britain.

Vincent’s sentencing came in the week that Novartis secured an injunction to prevent harassment of its employees, the 16 of its kind aimed at Shac granted in the last seven years.

Tom Holder, campaigns manager for Understanding Animal Research, said: “In the last three years, they (Shac) haven’t found their feet and they haven’t claimed any incidents. We’re not seeing the big targeted of suppliers which was the hallmark of UK and American activism which has been quite effective against the pharmaceutical industries.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
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