Three members of a ‘lunatic fringe’ animal rights group have been jailed for 12 years each for their role in a terror campaign, during which the body of an 82-year-old woman was stolen from her grave.
Three men - John Ablewhite, from Manchester, Kerry Whitburn, from Edgbaston, Birmingham, and John Smith, of Wolverhampton, were handed the prison terms at Nottingham Crown Court last week after pleading guilty to a charge of conspiring to blackmail the owners of a guinea pig breeding farm in Staffordshire.
A fourth defendant, Josephine Mayo, also from Edgbaston, was jailed for four years after admitting a lesser part in the six-year campaign against the Hall family, which bred the small animals for medical research purposes.
All four offenders were leading figures in Save The Newchurch Guinea Pigs (SNGP), which became the public face of the campaign against the Halls.
As part of the campaign against the family the body of Gladys Hammond, 82, the mother-in-law of one of the Hall brothers, was stolen from her grave in a churchyard in Yoxall, Staffordshire. Her remains were recovered earlier this month after Smith revealed its location in a nearby beauty spot in Cannock Chase to police.
Judge Michael Pert QC told the defendants they represented a danger to the public He said: ‘You assumed the right to dictate which lawful activities you would permit and which you would not.
You thought to enforce your view not by reasoned debate or lawful protest but by subjecting wholly innocent citizens to a campaign of terror.’
Judge Pert said the Hall family had run a lawful business, licensed by the Home Office, and said he had read 38 statements taken from victims targeted in the campaign. He said: ‘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 targeted the pub, the golf club and solicitors, seeking to isolate them [the Hall family] financially and socially.
‘What is clear is that you have, in the vast majority of these cases, ruined their lives over a period of years and perhaps forever.’
The judge continued: ‘The lowest point of your campaign was the theft of Gladys Hammond's body. You not only disinterred her but also kept her family on tenterhooks as to whether you would return her body. We are not going to start guarding country graveyards on the off-chance that some other lunatic fringe group emulate you.’
John Hall and his daughter Sally-Ann left Nottingham Crown Court without commenting. A statement 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.’
The daughter of Gladys Hammond told of her devastation after her mother's grave was robbed by animal rights protesters and how this sick action by the campaigners had led to an irreparable family rift.
Janet Palmer, 58, said she lay awake at night overwhelmed by fear and anger, wondering where her mother's body was. She said the vicious campaign had left her a shadow of her former self and ruined the relationship with her sister and in-laws, who bred guinea pigs.
Mrs Palmer said that despite not having anything to do with the farm, she knew that animal rights protesters were to blame.
As she begged her sister, Margaret Hall, to persuade her husband Chris and his brother to close the farm to ensure the remains were returned, the relationship soured to the extent, she said, where they no longer have anything to do with each other.
‘It was just unbelievable because it was so gruesome, the most horrendous thing that you can ever imagine. You put your mum in a coffin then wicked people like this come along and take her body.’
She said her mother was hardworking and devoted to her family and, ironically, animals.
‘She was very concerned about animal welfare - she had many cats and dogs, and they were always fed and looked after,’ she said. When the body was found last week she felt ‘elated’.
Within the next two weeks Mrs Hammond's remains will be returned to the cemetery at St Peter's church in Yoxall, Staffs, where she was buried in 1997.