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Animal rights protestors sentenced for conspiracy to blackmail

News   •   Jan 25, 2018 05:30 GMT

[Sven Van Hasselt and Natasha Simpkins]

Two animal rights protestors have been jailed after they pleaded guilty to conspiring to blackmail representatives of companies they suspected of being associated with an animal research organisation.

The sentences are the result of an investigation led by the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command and supported by the Dutch National Crime Squad, into criminal activity across Europe linked to the extremist animal rights group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC).

Sven Van Hasselt, 31 (06.10.1986), a Dutch national from Amsterdam and Natasha Simpkins, 30 (05.03.1987), a British national, pleaded guilty at Winchester Crown Court on 8 November to conspiracy to blackmail.

They were both sentenced on Wednesday, 24 January, with Van Hasselt receiving five years’ imprisonment and Simpkins receiving two years’ imprisonment, suspended for two years.

The blackmail spanned a ten-year period from November 2001 and August 2011, and was focused around Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) - a Cambridge-based international research company which had been the target of animal rights extremism for many years, including attacks on its premises and staff, which were believed to be linked to SHAC.

Over time, this criminal activity became increasingly targeted at companies and people who had an association with HLS - either as customers or suppliers of materials or services to HLS.

Information about the companies and individuals was obtained by deception and then published on the SHAC website, making them a target for activism.

Sustained campaigns of harassment and intimidation were waged by some of the activists, including making false allegations of paedophilia, the delivery of incendiary devices, hoax bomb threats, criminal damage to property, threatening and abusive correspondence, threats of actual physical assault, aggravated trespass, sending items allegedly contaminated with the Aids virus, and the blocking of email and telephone systems.

The targeted company would then be approached by a representative of SHAC who would state that the business and their details would remain listed on the website, and so continue to be targeted, until it provided written or an email statement that it would sever all associations with HLS.

The Met’s Counter Terrorism Command launched an investigation into the blackmail and associated illegal activities and as part of this, identified three people suspected of being involved in the blackmail. Co-ordinated arrests were made on 6 July, 2012, with a Debbie Vincent arrested in Croydon, and both Simpkins and Van Hasselt arrested by Dutch Police in Amsterdam. Vincent was subsequently charged with conspiracy to blackmail and convicted in April 2014, receiving a six-year prison sentence.

Both Simpkins and Van Hasselt were eventually extradited to the UK from the Netherlands and the pair were arrested at Heathrow on 17 February 2017 and were both charged with conspiracy to blackmail and convicted and sentenced as above.

Commander Dean Haydon, from the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command said: "The actions of both Simpkins and Van Hasselt, as well as Vincent who was convicted in 2014, were a clear breach of the law and these sentences reflect the seriousness of their illegal activity.

“The tactics they used in attempting to prevent companies from going about their legitimate business were extremely damaging to those targeted and went far beyond lawful campaigning.

“The Met remains committed to upholding the right to lawful protest. However we will not hesitate to pursue and prosecute those who are intent on committing criminal activity of this nature. Whilst the attacks against these companies and their employees occurred in Europe, this case demonstrates that the Met is committed to protecting the public and disrupting criminal activity.

“I'd like to thank the companies involved, the Dutch police and our other partners for their invaluable support and cooperation during this complex investigation.”