Five animal rights extremists who waged a war of 'intimidation, violence and terror' against firms linked to a controversial animal testing lab were jailed today.
Sarah Whitehead, 53, Nicole Vosper, 22, Thomas Harris, 27, Jason Mullan, 32, and 29-year-old Nicola Tapping were all members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac).
The youngest member of the conspiracy Alfie Fitzpatrick, 21, received a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years.
Winchester Crown Court heard how the six waged a wide-ranging international conspiracy of intimidation against a host of supply companies to force the closure of Cambridge-based HLS.
Facing jail: Nicole Vosper, 22, of Newquay, Cornwall, was jailed for three-and-a-half years. Right, Nicola Tapping, 29, of Ringwood in Hampshire was sentenced to three years
Attacks: Graffiti used by animal rights activists to intimidate companies linked to Huntingdon Life Sciences in an attempt to close down the animal testing lab
They posted realistic hoax bombs to the homes of staff and offices, caused criminal damage, threaten violence and made abusive telephone calls.
Some company directors had leaflets distributed near their home falsely telling neighbours they were convicted paedophiles and others had blood-stained personal items sent through the post saying the blood was HIV positive.
Others 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.
Passing sentence, Judge Keith Cutler said the well-planned and relentless campaign had been 'synonymous with intimidation, violence and terror'.
Extremists: Jason Mullan, 32, of north London was jailed for three years. Right, 53-year-old Sarah Whitehead of Littlehampton, West Sussex, was sentenced to six years
Graffiti on damaged cars used by animal rights activists to intimidate companies linked to Huntingdon Life Sciences
'The action was taken in order to distress and terrify, and in that you were successful,' he told them.
Whitehead, the oldest member of the group - who was referred to as 'Mumsy' by the others - was today given six years in jail.
Sentencing her, Judge Cutler said she led the younger members on and corrupted them.
He said she had carried out up to five direct attacks a night on one occasion and she was 'a long-term campaigner and trusted insider' within the conspiracy who had not shown remorse and would be likely to offend again.
Whitehead also received a ten-year Anti-Social Behaviour Order banning her from taking part in animal rights activities with the others receiving five-year ASBOs on the same terms.
Vosper was also described as a trusted insider by the judge and jailed for three and a half years. She took part in direct action against targets, and was described as having intelligence and ability.
Mullan's role was described as not insignificant and he had been part of Shac since 2002. The judge said he viewed with horror Mullan's behaviour while on a demonstration in Paris in April 2007 and jailed him for three years.
Caught out: Thomas Harris, 27, of Ringwood in Hampshire, was sentenced to three years' jail. Right, Alfie Fitzpatrick, 21, from Solihull, West Midlands, was given the 12-month sentence, suspended for two years, and told to complete 100 hours of community work
A letter used by animal rights activists to intimidate employees of companies linked to Huntingdon Life Sciences
Harris was described as having taken 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.
Fitzpatrick was only 17 when he was part of the conspiracy. He was educated at the international school in Geneva and is from a wealthy family. The judge said he was the least involved and received the suspended sentence.
The youngest member of the conspiracy Alfie Fitzpatrick, 21, received a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years and was ordered to complete 100 hours of community work.
The total cost of damage and increased security costs was £12.6 million, the court had heard.
The six were part of a larger conspiracy involving the founder members of Shac, Gregg and Natasha Avery and Heather Nicholson, who used the organisation as a front to intimidate companies under badges like the Animal Liberation Front or the Animal Rights Militia.
Whitehead, of Littlehampton, West Sussex, Vosper, of Newquay, Cornwall, and Harris, of Ringwood, Hampshire, had all admitted conspiracy to blackmail companies and suppliers linked to the Cambridge-based company between 2001 and 2008.
Graffiti used by animal rights activists to intimidate companies' employees
Mullan, of London, Tapping of Ringwood and Fitzpatrick, of Solihull, West Midlands, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harm Huntingdon Life Sciences from 2005 to 2008 under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 by interfering with companies supplying them.
The maximum jail term for conspiracy to blackmail is 14 years and for conspiracy under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 it is five years.
Other members of Shac, including the founder members Gregg Avery, Natasha Avery and Nicholson, were jailed in January 2009 at Winchester Crown Court for blackmailing companies linked to HLS.
Judge Cutler 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'.
He then quoted Mr Justice Butterfield, who jailed other members of the conspiracy, when he said: 'I expect you will be seen by some as martyrs for a noble cause but that would be wholly misplaced.
'You are not going to prison for expressing your beliefs, you are going to prison because you have committed a serious criminal offence.'
Police said that since the arrests of the group in 2007, animals rights extremism had been dramatically reduced.
The cost of the operation was put at £4 million.
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Robbins from Kent Police, who led the operation, said: 'The sentences passed today are a fitting reflection of the systematic and relentless intimidation of individuals and their employers, carried out by a small group of criminals.
'Such tactics have no place in a democratic society and in no way reflect the peaceful protests carried out by the vast majority of legitimate animal welfare campaigners.'
Alistair Nisbet, from the CPS, said on the steps of the court: 'These defendants were not legitimate welfare protestors but people who were prepared to carry out criminal acts which tormented and deeply distressed their victims, sometimes over a number of years.
'They threatened and intimidated those who were going about their lawful business because they personally objected to the victims supplying goods and services to Huntingdon Life Sciences.
'Those who have not been subject to such a campaign cannot understand how harrowing it is to be constantly on your guard against threatening letters and emails, vandalism to your home and car and even hoax bomb threats. Or what it is like to have your employers told, maliciously and repeatedly, that you are a paedophile.
'Our society supports the right to free speech and to campaign peacefully but where that behaviour is criminal regardless of the perceived cause, a prosecution will almost certainly follow and if convicted, a significant prison sentence.'
A spokesman representing Thames Valley, Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire Police Forces said that they were satisfied with the sentences.
'The sentences passed today by the Crown Court in Winchester are a fitting reflection of the systematic and relentless intimidation of individuals and their employers, carried out by a small group of criminals.
'The criminal tactics employed by members of SHAC - which ranged from sending threatening e-mails to placing explosive devices - were designed to create a climate of fear amongst their victims.
'Such tactics have no place in a democratic society and in no way reflect the peaceful protests carried out by the vast majority of legitimate animal welfare campaigners.
'The police service remains committed to facilitating the peaceful protest of the majority, but as we have seen today, we will not tolerate individuals who try and use crime to force their targets into submission.'