AN AMERICAN court found an animal rights group and six of its members guilty recently of using violence and terror in their campaign against the animal testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences.
After a three-week trial, the jury at the federal court in New Jersey found the group, known as Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), guilty on six counts including animal enterprise terrorism, which carries a sentence of up to three years and $250,000 fines.
During the trial, the court heard that SHAC in the US had posted personal information about employees of HLS and companies that do business with HLS onto the Internet. Many of those targeted had received threats and had their homes vandalised.
Other counts the group was found guilty on include stalking and conspiracy to engage in stalking and telephone harassment.
SHAC was founded in the UK in 1999 to campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences and companies that did business with it. The UK group points out that although the campaign is "truly global", it "does not encourage or incite illegal activity".
The US conviction comes as the British pharmaceuticals industry is trying in vain to rally UK businesses behind a call to "banish [animal rights] extremists to the margins of society".
The campaign in the UK by SHAC and other groups led to HLS de-listing from the London Stock Exchange and moving its headquarters to Maryland in the US, where shareholders are allowed anonymity under state law. An attempt to re-list the shares in the US was blocked by the New York Stock Exchange again following threats from extremists.
However, Britain's business community proved reluctant to throw its weight behind the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry's open letter last week calling company leaders to stand up to animal rights activists.
The letter came after a rally the previous weekend supporting an animal research laboratory in Oxford, which had triggered threats from the Animal Liberation Front against donors to Oxford University.
The Royal Bank of Scotland, which withdrew banking services to the animal testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences in 2002 after itself becoming a target of animal rights activists, said it would consider the letter carefully once it received it. The banking giant HSBC reiterated its "broad support for medical research"