Animal rights protesters face 12 years over grave robbery plot
By Nick Britten
April 11, 2006

Three animal rights protesters face 12 years in jail after admitting a campaign of terror against a farm that bred guinea pigs for medical research. It culminated in the theft of an 82-year-old woman's body from her grave.

John Ablewhite, 36, Kerry Whitburn, 35, and John Smith, 39, led the six-year fight to shut Darly Oaks Farm in Newchurch, Staffs. But demonstrations quickly progressed to something more sinister under the trio, who are all veteran activists with previous convictions.

Led by Ablewhite, they hatched a plan to steal the body of Gladys Hammond, the mother-in-law of one of the farm's owners, Chris Hall. Her grave, in a churchyard in Yoxall, Staffs, was raided at night and the Halls were taunted by letters from a group calling itself the Animal Rights Militia saying her remains were hidden in Brackenhurst Woods, Staffs.

The family was promised that the body parts would be returned if the farm closed and Darly Oaks reverted to arable land in January. However, the body has not been returned.

At Nottingham Crown Court yesterday the three admitted conspiracy to blackmail the Halls between September 1999 and September 2005 and making demands with menaces for the farm's closure.

A fourth defendant, Josephine Mayo, 37, who earlier denied the offence, is expected to appear in court today.

Judge Michael Pert said they faced up to 12 years in jail when sentenced next month. He told them: "This is a long-running conspiracy and has many unpleasant features. It involves threats of death, and extreme violence.

"It involves the desecration of one grave and threats of more. It involves acts of violence to property and the use of explosive devices. I would sentence them as determined and cold-blooded defenders of their perceived cause."

Ablewhite, Whitburn and Smith were arrested on March 16 last year, the day after an appeal on the BBC Crimewatch programme.

Ablewhite, a vicar's son who was once jailed for attacking the brother of Brian Cass, director of Huntingdon Life Sciences, watched the programme and immediately telephoned the other two.

They went to the 90-acre Brackenhurst Woods, where Smith dropped off Ablewhite and Whitburn, picking them up after two hours. When they were stopped by police the following day, spades and items of clothing were discovered, along with telephones, registered with false details.

On Smith, police also found the registrations of cars owned by the Halls and Peter Clamp, a councillor who tried to have activists banned from the area.

The farm had been run without controversy for 20 years, but seven years ago the Save the Newchurch Guinea Pig Campaign - led by Ablewhite and Smith, both from Wolverhampton, and Whitburn, from Birmingham -latched on to the fact that it was supplying Huntingdon Life Sciences.

As initial protests failed to get the farm closed, they began encouraging open warfare and targeted anyone involved with David Hall and his sons, John and Chris.

In the two years before their arrest, there were, on average, more than four incidents reported every week. Farm machinery was sabotaged, cars daubed with paint stripper and home-made explosives left on the family's land.

One worker had his name spelled out with shotgun cartridges on his lawn and left after death threats were made against his grandmother.

As the Halls refused to buckle, a hoax bomb was left on their front door. In the village, the golf course was dug up and Chris Hall was asked to resign his membership. The family could no longer visit a local pub after threats to poison the beer.

Then in October 2004 Mrs Hammond's body was stolen. Police searched the woods but, with no specific area to work to, found nothing. The Halls, however, are hopeful that the remains will be returned.

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