TWO animal rights activists from Ringwood have been jailed for their part in a devastating campaign against an animal testing laboratory.

Thomas Harris, 27, and Nicola Tapping, 29, both of Somerville Road in the town, were among five people sentenced at Winchester Crown Court on Monday.

Harris was given four years, while Tapping was handed 15 months and both were given five-year antisocial behaviour orders.

The group, which also included Sarah Whitehead, 53, Nicole Vosper, 22, and Jason Mullan, 32, made up Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty – Shac.

The five received between six years and 15 months in prison, while Alfie Fitzpatrick, 21, was given a 12-month sentence suspended for two years, as well as 100 hours of community work.

The court was told that the six waged a wide-ranging international conspiracy of intimidation against a host of supply companies to force the closure of Cambridge-based HLS, using Shac as a front.

The campaign included realistic hoax bombs posted to the homes of staff and offices, criminal damage, threats of violence and abusive telephone calls.

Some company directors had leaflets distributed near their homes falsely telling neighbours they were convicted paedophiles and others had used tampons sent through the post saying the blood was HIV positive.

Some had words like puppy killer, murderer and scum daubed on their houses, cars or on the roads nearby. The abuse would only stop when the company issued a capitulation statement on the Shac website and cut links with the lab.

The total cost of damage and increased security costs was £12.6 million, to around 40 companies targeted, the court heard.

The six were part of a larger conspiracy involving the founder members of Shac, Gregg and Natasha Avery and Heather Nicholson.

Whitehead, from Thorncroft Road, Littlehampton, West Sussex, Vosper, from Bay View Terrace, Newquay, and Harris admitted conspiracy to blackmail companies and suppliers linked to HLS between 2001 and 2008.

Mullan, from Holloway Road, London, Tapping and Fitzpatrick, from Knowle Road, Solihull, West Midlands, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harm HLS from 2005 to 2008 under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 by interfering with companies supplying them.

‘You have committed a serious offence'

Sentencing on Monday, the Recorder of Winchester, Judge Keith Cutler, said the well planned and relentless campaign had been “synonymous with intimidation, violence and terror”.

“The action was taken in order to distress and terrify, and in that you were successful,” he told them.

He said that the lawful activities of Shac were a “thin veneer” and it was a vehicle for intimidation, even though he accepted the six had a passionate opposition to animal research laboratories and had “fiercely held beliefs”.

The judge added: “You are not going to prison for expressing your beliefs, you are going to prison because you have committed a serious criminal offence.”

Harris was described as taking over the running of Shac after others were arrested in 2007 and he was fully aware of what others were doing. He was jailed for four years.

Tapping, the judge said, was not on the front line and did not carry out direct action, but she knew what was going on.

She received a 15-month jail term.