Sprayed on a road sign just before Darley Oaks Farm in Newchurch are the words "Evil Hall Scum". The Hall family, which owns the farm, along with relatives, employees and suppliers, has been subjected to a six-year campaign of terror by animal rights activists objecting to the farming of guinea pigs for medical research. Hostilities culminated last year when the body of Chris Hall's mother-in-law, Gladys Hammond, was stolen from a graveyard.
This weekend, however, after the Hall finally announced that they would stop farming guinea pigs and return to traditional farming, the nightmare was set to continue. The Independent on Sunday can reveal that animal rights activists, as well as continuing to target the Halls, have already drawn up a new list of targets around the country as part of a new offensive in the increasingly bitter animal liberation war.
These include 50 companies that allegedly have "secret" links with Huntingdon Life Sciences, the Cambridgeshire-based pharmaceutical firm which has been a long-standing target for extremists. Many are seen as soft targets that are likely to buckle easily under pressure.
The names, numbers and email addresses of senior managers working for these firms, which include couriers and even a bakery, have been posted on the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac) website. This newspaper has learnt that, in the past week, at least three of those targeted terminated their contracts with HLS after being bombarded by letters and phone calls from Shac members.
Animal rights sources say the "victory" against Darley Oaks has fortified hardcore activists who are ready for a new high-profile cause. The Staffordshire guinea pig farm is the fifth in a long line of small businesses that have been forced to close after becoming targets of animal rights "terrorists". Other casualties have included Consort kennels, a beagle-breeding farm in Hereford which closed down in 1997, and Hillgrove cat farm in Witney, Oxfordshire.
The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordinating Unit (Netcu), set up to combat animal extremists, told the IoS that its two main areas of concern are the ongoing hate campaigns being waged against Huntingdon Life Sciences and the University of Oxford, which is building a new £18m laboratory to carry out animal experiments.
It is understood that Oxford is mounting a secret operation to have major parts of the new centre, which will be home to all the lab animals used by the university, built overseas in prefabricated form. Last year, building contractors pulled out of the project following harassment by the campaign group Speak. Another more sinister development, which Netcu describes as "extremely serious", is the targeting of businesses involved in the international movement of animals from overseas to the UK. A new group called Gateway to Hell has already been linked with attacks on the homes and vehicles of air transport executives.
Police investigators estimate that there are a few hundred protesters who hold demonstrations around the country against animal testing and that only around 40 of these are prepared to break the law. Then there are between 10 to 15 masterminds, seasoned activists who orchestrate hate campaigns against the directors of life science companies, their workers and anyone who has a link with the world of animal experimentation.
And for the people of Happy Valley there is no guaranteed end to the harassment they face each day. The protesters are warning they will continue to target the Hall family if the guinea pigs are sold to another animal breeder rather than donated to an animal welfare group.
Greg Avery, a spokesman for Shac, warned: "If what the Halls are planning to do is sell them off over the next three months, if they do that, they will be making a severely bad mistake. People won't forget that there's still thousands of guinea pigs that they've cynically sold off."
Peter Clamp, a local parish councillor who has been fighting the protesters in court, once received a death threat on his mobile phone and described the activists as "worse than al-Qa'ida" for impeding medical research. "They are the same mentality as the terrorists who bombed London. They will destroy cultures to get what they want."
In 1999, balaclava-clad activists broke into the farm and stole 600 guinea pigs. Farm machinery was sabotaged; the Halls' cars were daubed with paint-stripper and explosives left on their land. The newsagent in Yoxall stopped supplying the family with papers after threatening letters were sent to other customers. The golf club where Chris Hall was a member had several greens dug up and he was asked to resign. The landlords of the Red Lion pub in Newborough, where the Halls drank, had their contract with the brewery terminated after they refused to stop serving them. The activists had threatened to poison the brewery's entire supply of beer.
For eight years May Hudson, a 67-year-old widow, cleaned the house of Chris and Margaret Hall, who live at the farm. For five of them she withstood the intimidation. But she resigned in January when three vehicles owned by her children were sprayed with paint-stripper. "I'm really upset," she said. "We need medical research. I think they are just terrorists. I don't think they're animal lovers at all. My dog's terrified now with all the fireworks we've had."
Mrs Hudson had endured bricks through her window, one of which hit her while in bed. Another almost hit her late husband while he was ill with cancer. A bomb was left outside her house, as was a life-size figure with a noose around its neck.
But the battle is not over. Janet Tomlinson, an animal rights supporter known locally as the Grave Robber following her arrest in connection with the disappearance of Mrs Hammond's body, still intends to protest at the farm until all the guinea pigs are removed.
WHO ARE THE ACTIVISTS?
The group fighting Oxford University's plans to build an £18m animal research lab. Its members include John Curtain, jailed for desecrating the Duke of Beaufort's grave in 1984.
Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac)
Formed in 1999 to shut down Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS). The group does not encourage illegal activity but Greg Avery, its leader, was jailed for 12 months in 2001 for orchestrating a harassment campaign against HLS staff.
The Animal Liberation Front
Britain's most significant animal rights terror group, the ALF is a decentralised organisation. Its members have used arson, explosives and physical intimidation, but it has proved difficult to close down.
Gateway to Hell
A new group linked to Shac, Gateway to Hell is an anti-vivisection group which targets ports, airports and the transport industry. It has been credited with forcing British Airways to stop using its planes for flying live animals for labs.
Band of Mercy
An extreme splinter group linked to the ALF, Band of Mercy claimed it dug up the body of Gladys Hammond, 82, a relative of the Hall family which runs Darley Oaks guinea pig farm.
The Animal Rights Militia
Formed in the 1980s, the group uses similar tactics to the ALF but is more extreme. One of its early stunts was to send a letter bomb to 10 Downing Street.
The Justice Department
A shadowy group which shares the philosophy of the ALF. It has previously sent letter bombs to cross-channel ferry companies that exported animals to continental Europe.Reuse content