AN animal rights activist has been convicted of conspiring to blackmail customers and suppliers of an animal research company.

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) activist, Debbie Vincent, 52, was found guilty at Winchester Crown Court.

The court heard she and other members of the group aimed to 'close down' Huntingdon Life Sciences, an organisation based in Cambridgeshire.

The group also took action against the company's suppliers by damaging property and cars, mailing threatening letters and making false accusations of paedophilia, although there was no allegations that Vincent herself took part in these.

Following the conviction, Alastair Nisbet, senior crown prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service Wessex Complex Casework Unit said: “This case was not about interfering with the right of activists to express their views about the use of animals in pharmaceuticals testing and lawfully protesting against it.

"It was about Debbie Vincent’s involvement in an agreement to commit very serious criminal offences against companies that were carrying on a lawful business, and against their employees, in order to intimidate them into ceasing to trade with Huntingdon Life Sciences Plc (HLS).

“The sole objective of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) was to cause HLS to close down. SHAC activists demonstrated against that company but failed to achieve their objective and then went far beyond peaceful demonstration and into criminal activity.

"This was the latest in a series of prosecutions for the same offence that have resulted in guilty pleas or convictions after trial, and substantial sentences of imprisonment."

Mr Nisbet added: “The jury at Winchester Crown Court heard how the group had, by deception, obtained information about the employees of companies they thought were trading with HLS, and how they took what they described as “direct action” against them, including damaging their homes and cars, sending threatening letters or hoax bombs, and making false accusations of paedophilia.

“The direct action continued in Europe and a number of companies were targeted. The houses and cars of employees were damaged; incendiary devices were used; and a family grave was desecrated.

“Following the conviction of SHAC’s main leaders in 2008, Debbie Vincent’s role within the organisation grew. She became the public face of SHAC but, behind a veil of respectability, she was involved in the criminal side of the organisation.

“The prosecution did not allege that Debbie Vincent herself had committed any of the direct action offences, but the jury has found her guilty of knowingly being involved in an agreement with others to pursue the objective of SHAC by such threatening and intimidating actions.

“The Crown Prosecution Service would like to pay tribute to law enforcement colleagues throughout Europe who cooperated under European Mutual Legal Assistance Protocols in providing evidence of the group’s criminal activities. Without that cooperation this prosecution could not have been brought."