May 11, 2006

UK animal activists jailed in grave desecration case

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - Four British animal rights militants
were jailed for 40 years on Thursday over the desecration of
the grave of a woman whose family bred guinea pigs for medical

The body of 82-year-old Gladys Hammond was dug up and
stolen from a churchyard in central England during one of the
most sustained campaigns ever launched by animal rights

Britain is home to some of the world's most vociferous
animal rights groups but police say the 6-year campaign of
violence and intimidation against family business David Hall
and Partners was one of the worst they had encountered.

It prompted tough laws against activists whom government
ministers branded as terrorists.

The family of brothers Chris and John Hall and their staff,
were subject to firebomb attacks, had paint-stripper poured
over their cars and bricks thrown through their windows.
Suppliers were also threatened.

But it was the attack in October 2004 on the grave of
Hammond, Chris Hall's mother-in-law who had died seven years
earlier, that grabbed national attention.

"The desecration of Mrs Hammond's grave went way beyond any
rational understanding of protest," said Detective Chief
Inspector Nick Baker.

Her remains were only recovered last week, 18 months after
being stolen.

Jon Ablewhite, 36, John Smith, 39, Kerry Whitburn, 36, and
Josephine Mayo, 38, pleaded guilty to conspiring to blackmail
the Hall family, and although it could not be proved they had
dug up the grave, police said they were clearly involved.

Ablewhite, Smith and Whitburn were jailed for 12 years each
while Mayo received a four-year term. Police said the gang were
leading members of the Save The Newchurch Guinea Pigs campaign.

The Halls quit breeding guinea pigs in January.

A quarter of the world's top 100 medicines were discovered
in Britain, home to industry giants such as GlaxoSmithKline Plc
and AstraZeneca Plc, although the country accounts for less
than 4 percent of the world drugs market.

The industry has long been the target of campaigners. Only
this week Glaxo, Europe's biggest pharmaceuticals manufacturer,
said shareholders had received letters warning them to sell
their stock or risk having their names posted on the Internet.

Robin Webb, a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front,
said new laws would not stop the activities of militants and
would only make mainstream groups go underground. "You can't
legislate to outlaw something that is already outlawed."