HLS tests household cleaners, pesticides, weedkillers, cosmetics, food additives, chemicals for use in industry, and drugs for use against Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. It conducts tests on around 75,000 animals every year, including rats, rabbits, pigs, dogs, and primates (marmosets, macaques, and wild-caught baboons).
SHAC was started in November 1999 by British animal rights activists Greg Avery and Heather James after video footage shot covertly inside HLS in 1997 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was aired on British television. The footage showed staff shaking, punching, shouting, and laughing at beagles in an HLS lab . The employees were dismissed and prosecuted, and HLS's Home Office licence to perform animal experiments was revoked for six months. Along with the British video, footage shot in the U.S. appeared to show technicians dissecting a live monkey. PETA stopped its protests against HLS after being threatened with legal action, and SHAC took over as a leaderless resistance campaign.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors U.S. domestic extremism, has described SHAC's modus operandi as "frankly terroristic tactics similar to those of anti-abortion extremists." The campaign has used tactics ranging from non-violent protest to the alleged firebombing of houses owned by executives associated with HLS clients and investors, and several SHAC activists have been convicted for their role in the campaign. In May 2005, an official with the FBI's counterterrorism division included SHAC in a list of what he called special-interest extremist movements that he said are the "most serious domestic terrorism threats" in the U.S. Later that month, the Animal Liberation Front issued a warning in support of the campaign that threatened further violence: "If you support or raise funds for any company connected with Huntingdon Life Sciences we will track you down, come for you and destroy your property with fire."
Avery and James were involved in previous high-profile campaigns against facilities in the UK that bred animals for laboratories. In 1997, after a ten-month campaign, they caused the closure of Consort Kennels, which bred beagles for animal research. Later that year, they started Save the Hill Grove Cats against Hill Grove farm in Oxfordshire, which bred cats for laboratories. The farm closed after two years.
SHAC maintains a decentralized approach with no central leadership. Heather Nicholson and the Averys publish reports on the SHAC website and by mail, and provide press information and interviews. The website and mailing list serve as a platform for supporters. Action reports are published on the website and mailed out to subscribers, and may contain details of potential targets and lists of the companies that have severed links with HLS. The information allows SHAC activists throughout the UK and North America to act autonomously.
As of April 2004, the Averys and Nicholson were reported to be living together rent-free in a £500,000 cottage provided by a supporter, named as Virginia Jane Steele. The Observer describes Steele as an extremely wealthy anti-vivisectionist who "bankrolls" the Averys. According to prosecutors in a 2008 court case, "senior members" of SHAC, including Nicholson and the Averys, co-ordinate the campaign from the cottage in Little Moorcote, near Hook, Hampshire. The court was told that the members would meet every three months to discuss their campaign, and received updates from colleagues in the United States and Europe.
The Daily Mail cites as examples a SHAC activist sending 500 letters to the neighbours of a company manager who did business with HLS. The letter warned parents to keep their children away from the man — falsely claiming that he had raped the letter writer when she was a child. Police subsequently visited every household in the manager's area to tell his neighbours that the allegations were false. A woman in her 60s who worked for a HLS-related company allegedly had every window in her house smashed twice, both after visits from SHAC supporters during the night, and found an effigy hanging outside her home, which read "R.I.P. Mary, Animal Abusing Bitch".
SHAC say they publish names and addresses only so that people can protest peacefully and within the law. However, testimony to the British House of Commons on March 19, 2003 included excerpts from a document reported to have come from within the SHAC organization. Quotes include:
A few months later, HLS marketing director Andrew Gay was attacked on his doorstep with a chemical spray to his eyes which left him temporarily blinded.
The campaign continues to develop new tactics and targets. SHAC activists have been convicted of burglary, affray, illegal street collection, highway obstruction, public order offences, inciting violence and terror, blackmail, and stalking.
According to Keith Mann, described by The Guardian as a "senior figure" within the ALF, a government clampdown on legal protest against HLS means "all that is left to them is extremism". He commented after a May 26, 2005 warning was posted on the ALF website: "A new era has dawned for those who fund the abusers ... If you support or raise funds for any company connected with Huntingdon Life Sciences we will track you down, come for you and destroy your property with fire." The warning coincided with the ALF firebombing of a car belonging to the finance director of, Canaccord Capital, a brokerage firm. Members of SHAC defended the bombing, suggesting the company acted as brokers for Phytopharm, which had used HLS for contract testing.
The ALF continued to target individuals associated with HLS throughout 2006. On August 17, 2006 Donald Currie was charged with a number of fire bombing offenses, leading police to describe him as an "active bomber for the Animal Liberation Front" who may be responsible for "eight or nine" other similar crimes targeting HLS. In December 2006 Currie was jailed for 12 years for the crimes. On its web site SHAC encourages supporters to help Currie, and other jailed ALF activists, explaining: "write a letter now, help them whilst they are in there, it could be you!"
"Dangerous activists are moving freely between these groups, money is changing hands and the threat is escalating," David Martosko, spokesman for the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) — a lobby group that campaigns against a number of animal rights organisatitions — told The Observer in August 2004. The FBI suspects that British SHAC activists are being bankrolled by groups and individuals in the U.S.
In 2000, SHAC obtained a list of HLS shareholders, including the names of usually anonymous beneficial owners (those holding shares through third parties) and including the pension funds of the Labour Party, Rover cars, and the London Borough of Camden. The list was passed to the Sunday Telegraph, which published it on December 3, 2000, and several beneficial owners disposed of their shares. The Labour Party sold its 75,000 shares in January 2000. Two weeks later, an equity stake of 32 million shares was placed on the London Stock Exchange for one penny each, causing an immediate and sharp drop in the stock price.
On December 21, 2000, HLS was dropped from the New York Stock Exchange because its market capitalization had fallen below NYSE limits, and on March 29, 2001, HLS lost both of its market makers and its place on the London Stock Exchange. Shortly after, HLS moved its headquarters to the United States, incorporating as Life Sciences Research (LSR), and secured a $15m loan from investment bank Stephens, Inc, its largest shareholder.
On September 7, 2005, after the firebombing of the homes of a Canadian brokerage employee and a British pharmaceutical executive, the New York Stock Exchange asked Life Sciences Research, to delay moving its listing from the OTC Bulletin Board to the main exchange. LSR continues to trade on the OTC Bulletin Board.
A posting on the website Bite Back on September 7, 2005 said that the ALF had carried out an attack on the home of Paul Blackburn, the corporate controller of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), in Buckinghamshire, because GSK is a customer of Huntingdon Life Sciences. The activists admitted to detonating a device containing two litres of fuel and four pounds of explosives on the doorstep of Blackburn's home. Blackburn was out of the country at the time, but his wife and child were home, though the bomb caused only minor damage.
Carr Securities announced it had withdrawn from making a market in HLS shares after a New York yacht club was covered in red paint by the U.S. branch of the ALF, because members of the club worked for Carr Securities, which traded in HLS shares. The ALF announced on its bulletin board: "Let this be a message to any other company who chooses to court HLS in their ... entrance into the NYSE. If you trade in LSR shares, make a market, process orders, or purchase shares you can expect far worse treatment. The message is simple, don't touch HLS!" On October 26, 2005, Testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works by John Lewis, Deputy Assistant Director Federal Bureau of Investigation Oversight on Eco-terrorism included statements that in September, "Carr Securities began marketing the Huntingdon Life Sciences stock. The next day, the Manhasset Bay Yacht Club, to which certain Carr executives reportedly belong, was vandalized by animal rights activists. The extremists sent a claim of responsibility to the SHAC website, and three days after the incident, Carr terminated its business relationship with HLS. These are just some of the examples of SHAC’s use of threats and violence to financially strangle HLS and permanently mar its public image. These examples demonstrate some of the difficulties law enforcement faces in combating acts of extremism and domestic terrorism. Extremists are very knowledgeable about the letter of the law and the limits of law enforcement. The SHAC website has a page devoted to instructing activists on how to behave toward law enforcement officers, how to deal with interrogations, and what to say — and not say — if they are arrested."
In May 2006, an anonymous group said it would be writing to every one of GlaxoSmithKline's 170,000 small investors warning them to sell their shares, as part of the campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences. The letters began arriving at investors' home addresses on May 7, 2006, asking that shares be sold within 14 days, and that the group should be informed of the sale by e-mail via a hotmail address. It added: "We will be checking that you have done this. The choice is yours. The number of letters sent was much smaller than was claimed, reports suggesting "at least 50" shareholders received the warning. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph the following week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed support for animal experimentation in the face of an "appalling...campaign of intimidation.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) included SHAC in its fall 2002 Intelligence Report. In an article entitled "From Push to Shove," the SPLC described SHAC's modus operandi as "frankly terroristic tactics similar to those of anti-abortion extremists." Kevin Kjonaas (also known as Kevin Jonas), the leader of SHAC-USA told the Intelligence Report: "There's a very famous quote by John F. Kennedy. If you make peaceful revolution impossible, you make violent revolution inevitable.
These injunctions are not permanent. HLS tried but failed to obtain a permanent injunction against SHAC, which represented itself, on June 26, 2004. SHAC's argument against the enforceability of such injunctions was that, despite having hundreds of supporters, a website, mailing address, telephone information hotline, mailing list, and bank account, it does not exist as a corporate or charitable body, and therefore cannot prevent its supporters from taking action against HLS.
Tim Lawson-Cruttenden, lawyer for HLS, has explored another legal avenue to hold SHAC financially accountable. HLS sought £205,000 in damages from the owner of a property SHAC used as a mailing address, for the costs incurred in its harassment suit, or the forfeit of the property in lieu.
The law prohibits any criminal or tortious "act or threat" designed to harm an animal research organisation "intended or likely" to cause someone "to terminate any contract", to "not to enter into a contract" or "not to perform any contractual obligation owed by" it. The law also created the offence of intimidating any person connected to an animal research organization (including inter alia employees and their families, students of establishments conducting such research, investors, suppliers, landlords). Sentences of up to five years can be imposed for offences under the Act. Further provisions were added to create the offence of harassing someone outside his home, for any reason, as a response to SHAC members who engaged in tactics such as setting off loud rape alarms in the middle of the night outside the home of persons connected to HLS.
The first person to be convicted under the Act was Joseph Harris, a doctor of molecular biology, who attacked property owned by companies supplying building materials, refrigeration servicing and testing equipment to HLS. He received a three-year sentence.
In March 2007, three SHAC activists were jailed under the Act for a campaign of intimidation against suppliers of HLS. One supplier dropped its contract with HLS after being invaded by demonstrators wearing skull masks.
On March 3, 2006, a federal jury in Trenton, New Jersey convicted six members of SHAC of "terrorism and Internet stalking," according to the New York Times, finding them guilty of using their website to "incite attacks" on those who did business with HLS. In September 2006, the so-called "SHAC 7" received jail sentences of 3 to 6 years.
Originally, seven individuals were charged, along with Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA. The individuals were Kevin Kjonaas (former president of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA), Lauren Gazzola, Jacob Conroy, Joshua Harper, Andrew Stepanian, Darius Fullmer, and John McGee. McGee was later dropped from the case.
The defendants were charged with conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, in the first application of the 1992 statute. Kjonaas, Gazzola, Conroy, and Harper were also charged with conspiracy to harass using a telecommunications device (sending black faxes). Kjonaas, Gazzola, Conroy, and SHAC USA were charged with conspiracy to commit interstate stalking and three counts of interstate stalking via the Internet. The case first went to trial in June 2005, but ended in a mistrial when one of the key defense attorneys fell ill during the opening statement. It resumed on February 6, 2006. The defense of the SHAC 7 rested largely on the 1969 case Brandenburg v. Ohio, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that political speech is legal unless it can be shown that a defendant has told specific individuals to commit specific, imminent acts of violence. On March 3, 2006, the defendants were convicted and sentenced to an aggregate of 24 years in prison, and ordered to pay a joint restitution of $1,000,001.00.
On 30 July 2008 Greg and Natasha Avery entered pleas of guilty to the charge of blackmail, together with a co-accused Dan Amos; they returned to custody . They will not be sentenced until the completion of the October 2008 trial of Trevor Holmes, Gerrah Selby, Daniel Wadham, Gavin Medd-Hall, and Heather Nicholson, who deny the charges. During the trial prosecutors told jurors that a 2007 meeting between the defendants had been bugged by police, and the information acquired revealed that SHAC supported illegal acts that were traced to attacks on people across Britain. The prosecution also alleged that there is evidence of direct email links between SHAC, the Animal Liberation Front and Animal Rights Militia.
As a result of the operation, Der Spiegel writes, the number of attacks on HLS and their business declined drastically but "the movement is by no means dead."
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