May 3, 2006

Remains Found in Animal Rights Desecration Case

LONDON -- Police searching for the body of a dead woman dug up by animal rights activists said on Wednesday they had found what they believed were human remains.

The grave of Gladys Hammond, related to the owners of a guinea pig farm in Newchurch, Staffordshire, was desecrated in October 2004 in a long-running campaign of intimidation.

Four British animal rights protesters have admitted plotting to blackmail the owners of the farm that bred the animals for medical research and will be sentenced later this month.

Police said the remains were found on Tuesday afternoon on land near a German war cemetery at Broadhurst Green, near Hednesford in Staffordshire.

The remains will be removed later on Wednesday and taken to Staffordshire mortuary for tests to determine their identity, a process that could take several days.

"It is too early at this stage to say if the remains belong to Gladys Hammond," Detective Chief Inspector Nick Baker told reporters.

But he said he was hopeful that the find might "prove to be the development that we and Mrs Hammond's family have been waiting for."

The desecration of the grave in a churchyard in Yoxall, Staffordshire, was the worst incident in a six-year campaign against David Hall and Partners who ran their family business at Darley Oaks Farm.

The family endured abuse, death threats and firebomb attacks during one of Britain's most sustained harassment campaigns by animal rights groups.

The campaign led the family to announce last year they would give up breeding guinea pigs and would return to traditional farming.

Prosecutors last month said Jon Ablewhite, 36, Kerry Whitburn, 36, John Smith, 39, and Josephine Mayo, 38, had admitted conspiracy charges at hearings at Nottingham Crown Court.

In a statement following the hearings, Harry Ireland, the Chief Crown Prosecutor of Staffordshire, said the four had admitted using the theft of the body of Hammond, who died in 1997 aged 82, as part of their campaign.

But he said the prosecution had not been able to prove that they had actually stolen the body.