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Debbie Vincent Found Guilty of Conspiracy to Blackmail

On 18th March 2014, Debbie Vincent, 52, was found guilty of Conspiracy to Blackmail at Winchester Crown Court. Vincent was alleged to be a trusted member of the animal rights extremist group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), becoming its public face after many of its original leaders were jailed in 2008-9.

For over a decade, SHAC activists have targeted Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) and its suppliers across a number of countries, particularly the US and UK where HLS is based. The secondary targeting against HLS’s suppliers included “damaging property and cars, mailing threatening letters and making false accusations of paedophilia”, although Vincent herself was not charged with these crimes.

Alastair Nisbet, senior crown prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, said:

“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.”

In an article in 2006, John Cook summarised the tactics used by SHAC:

“SHAC’s modus operandi is simple, elegant and shockingly effective: Publish the names, home addresses and telephone numbers of executives and employees of Huntingdon and any companies it does business with; identify these individuals as “targets”; urge people to let targets know how they feel about Huntingdon’s treatment of puppies”.

Many of SHAC’s leaders were involved in illegal activities. In 2009, seven activists including Greg and Natasha Avery, and Heather Nicholson, were sentenced to between four and eleven years. The following year, five more SHAC activists were given significant jail sentences for a campaign of “violence and terror” against companies linked to HLS. Many of these sentences were, like Debbie Vincent, for Conspiracy to Blackmail.

According to QC Bowes, Vincent had worked alongside Greg and Natasha Avery at their headquarters in Hook, Hampshire. She had also been given access to the computer used to coordinate illegal activities. Bowes was quoted in The Guardian saying:

"People are entitled to hold strong views in this country, and freedom of expression is one of our most cherished liberties. But what people are not entitled to do is menace others with their demands, and this is about the making of unwarranted demands with menaces."

Sentencing is expected to take place in April.
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