40 years for animal rights group who stole body

THREE members of a "lunatic fringe" animal rights group were jailed for 12 years each yesterday for their parts in a terror campaign in which the body of an 82-year-old woman was stolen from her grave.

John Ablewhite, of Manchester, Kerry Whitburn, of Birmingham, and John Smith, of Wolverhampton, were each handed 12-year prison terms at Nottingham Crown Court after admitting conspiring to blackmail the owners of a guinea pig breeding farm in Staffordshire.

A fourth defendant, Josephine Mayo, also from Birmingham, was jailed for four years after admitting a lesser part in the six-year campaign against the Hall family, who bred the animals for use in medical research.

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As part of the campaign, the body of Gladys Hammond, 82, mother-in-law of one of the Hall brothers, was stolen from her grave. It was recovered this month when Smith told police where it was hidden on Cannock Chase.

Judge Michael Pert, QC, told the defendants they were a danger to society. Had he been sentencing them at the end of a trial he would have handed them maximum jail terms.

The judge said: "Each of you has enjoyed the benefit of living in a democratic society.

"Our laws are made by parliament. If you don't like a particular law there are many lawful means by which you can seek to change it.

"What you four have done is something completely different. You assumed the right to dictate which lawful activities you would permit.

"You thought to enforce your view, not by reasoned debate or lawful protest, but by subjecting wholly innocent citizens to a campaign of terror.

"Your stated aim was to put the Hall family out of business; to that end, you targeted them, their employees and their families. You targeted people who did business with them and friends of them.

"You have, in the vast majority of these cases, ruined their lives over a period of years and perhaps forever."

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The judge continued: "The lowest point was the theft of Gladys Hammond's body. Few reading or hearing of these events could imagine that anyone could stoop so low.

"You not only disinterred her but kept her family on tenterhooks as to whether you would return her body. Having stolen the body you used it as a weapon."

He told the defendants: "We are not going to start guarding country graveyards on the off chance that some other lunatic fringe group emulate you."

Smith raised a defiant fist as he was taken down to the cells with his three co-defendants.

John Hall and his daughter, Sally-Ann, left the court without commenting, but a police family liaison officer read out a statement on their behalf.

In it, they said: "The activists waged a six-year campaign against us and anyone linked to us - no matter how tenuously.

"The callous and depraved act of desecrating Gladys's grave and removing her body was totally outrageous.

"As a family we were devastated. We struggled to comprehend how anyone could conceive such a plan. We could only assume they were devoid of any emotions."