Activists Jailed For Conspiring to Blackmail Companies Associated With an Animal Research Organisation

Animal rights protestors Sven Van Hasselt, 31, from Amsterdam and Natasha Simpkins, 30, a British national, were sentenced on Wednesday, and have been jailed after pleading guilty to conspiring to blackmail representatives of companies believed to be associated with Huntingdon Life Sciences, which uses animals in biomedical research.

The blackmail spanned a period from November 2001 through August 2011 where information about the companies and individuals “was obtained by deception and then published on the SHAC website, making them a target for activism,” Met Police said. SHAC would tell the targeted business that their details would remain on the site until it provided a statement that the company planned to break ties with HLS.

“Sustained campaigns of harassment and intimidation were waged by some of the activists, including making false allegations of paedophilia, the delivery of incendiary devices, hoax bomb threats, criminal damage to property, threatening and abusive correspondence, threats of actual physical assault, aggravated trespass, sending items allegedly contaminated with the Aids virus, and the blocking of email and telephone systems,” Met Police reported.

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) is considered by Met Police to be an “extremist” animal rights group. Though SHAC’s stated position is of non-violence, members have been sent to prison for threatening HLS staff. The group has been accused of encouraging arson and violence, and reportedly assaulted an HLS director in front of his child. Another businessman with links to HLS was said to be knocked unconscious beside a barn which his attackers set on fire.

The rage SHAC and other animal welfare activists have against HLS is due to the company using 60,000 animals every year for biomedical research. In 1997 activists infiltrated Huntingdon’s labs and secretly recorded a beagle puppy being held by the scruff of the neck and punched in the face repeatedly, as well as footage of other animals taunted and terrified. Channel 4 aired this on “It’s a Dog’s Life,” and the technicians responsible were suspended from HLS then later fired. Two were found guilty under the Animals Act of 1911 of “cruelly terrifying dogs.” And yet, animal testing, even on non medical products, still continues at HLS.

“The actions of both Simpkins and Van Hasselt, as well as Vincent who was convicted in 2014, were a clear breach of the law and these sentences reflect the seriousness of their illegal activity,” Commander Dean Haydon from the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command said. “The tactics they used in attempting to prevent companies from going about their legitimate business were extremely damaging to those targeted and went far beyond lawful campaigning.”

Haydon went on to say the Met remains “committed to upholding the right to lawful protest” but “will not hesitate to pursue and prosecute those who are intent on committing criminal activity of this nature.”