Animal Rights Activists Admit Blackmail Campaign

Four animal rights activists have pleaded guilty to interfering and blackmailing companies linked to Huntingdon Life Sciences in an attempt to close the animal testing lab down.

Thomas Harris, 27, from Clarence Road, Gosport, Hampshire, admitted conspiracy to blackmail companies and suppliers linked to the Cambridge-based company between 2001 and 2008.

Jason Mullan, 32, from Holloway Road, London; Nicola Tapping, 29, from Clarence Road, Gosport, and Alfie Fitzpatrick, 20, from Knowle Road, Solihull, West Midlands, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harm Huntingdon Life Sciences from 2005 to 2008 under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 by interfering with companies supplying them.

The four, who were members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty SHAC, pleaded guilty at Winchester Crown Court on the eve of their trial.

Two other members of SHAC, Sarah Whitehead, 53, from Thorncroft Road, Littlehampton, West Sussex, and Nicole Vosper, 22, from Bay View Terrace, Newquay, Cornwall, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to blackmail at an earlier hearing.

The six waged an international campaign of intimidation against a host of companies to force the closure of HLS.

Homes of staff from the supply firms were targeted with abusive telephone calls and criminal damage and threats of violence were also used to force companies to cut links with HLS.

The Recorder of Winchester, Judge Keith Cutler, adjourned the case for pre-sentence reports.

A two-day sentencing hearing will take place at Winchester Crown Court on October 21.

A section 4(2) Contempt of Court Act reporting restriction banning the reporting of the names of Thomas Harris and Nicola Tapping was lifted following representations from the Press Association.

The maximum jail term for conspiracy to blackmail is 14 years and the conspiracy under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 is five years.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Robbins, of Kent Police, who led the investigation said outside court:

"We are satisfied with court proceedings today, and pleased that the defendants have now accepted that their actions went way beyond what could reasonably be considered peaceful protest.

"Since this investigation began in 2007, there has been a sustained reduction in criminal activity linked to animal rights extremism.

"We hope the events today send a clear message that harassment and intimidation has no place in peaceful protest and will result in prosecution.

"We also want to make it clear that the actions of these few people in no way reflect the peaceful campaigns that are carried out by the majority of animal rights campaigners in the UK.

"Everyone is entitled to express their views and the police will continue to facilitate peaceful protest - but we won't accept a minority of people taking the law into their own hands in an attempt to further their cause.''