Left to right: Kerry Whitburn, Josephine Mayo, John Smith, Jon Ablewhite
Four animal rights extremists were behind bars today after waging a terror campaign in which a pensioner's body was stolen from a grave .
The quartet - branded wicked and totally outrageous - were handed prison terms totalling 40 years for conspiring to blackmail the Hall family who owned a guinea pig breeding farm in Staffordshire.
The psychological warfare included the body of Christopher Hall's 82 year-old mother-in-law Gladys Hammond being stolen from her grave in Yoxall, Staffordshire, in October 2004.
It was recovered only earlier this month after one of the conspirators, John Smith, revealed to police that it was buried at the nearby Cannock Chase beauty spot.
At Nottingham Crown Court yesterday, vicar's son John Ablewhite, from Manchester; Kerry Whitburn, from Edgbaston, and Smith, of Wolverhampton, were each sentenced to 12 years imprisonment after admitting conspiracy to blackmail.
Josephine Mayo, also from Edgbaston, was jailed for four years after admitting a lesser part in the campaign against the Hall family, who bred the guinea pigs for medical research purposes.
Afterwards, Mrs Hammond's daughter, Janet Palmer, speaking publicly for the first time about her mother, said she could not think of the four defendants as people.
"You don't tend to think they're people because it's such a gruesome thing. How could anyone break into a coffin that had been there since 1997? Surely even they, wicked people, must have found it horrendous? How they could do it I just don't know."
Christopher Hall and his brother John, who ran the Newchurch farm and watched their business collapse in recent years, said they were looking forward to leading a "normal life" again.
John Hall and his daughter Sally-Ann left court without commenting but a police family liaison officer read out a statement on their behalf.
In it they said: "The biomedical industry and animal testing continues without us, and is essential for medical progress.
"We are looking forward to getting back to normal life and farming."
They added: "Animal rights extremists used psychological warfare, verbal abuse, criminal acts and very offensive propaganda in their quest to close our business.
"The callous and depraved act of desecrating Gladys's grave and removing her body was totally outrageous.
"As a family we were devastated. We struggled to comprehend how anyone could conceive such a plan."
Jailing the four, Judge Michael Pert QC described them as part of a "lunatic fringe" of the animal rights movement who had outraged public decency by their crime.
Describing them as a danger to society, he said: "Each of you has enjoyed the benefit of living in a democratic society.
"You thought to enforce your view not by reasoned debate or lawful protest but by subjecting wholly innocent citizens to a campaign of terror."
The judge said the Hall family had run a lawful business, licensed by the Home Office, and he had read 38 statements from victims, including some whose lives had been ruined forever.
"The lowest point of your campaign was the theft of Gladys Hammond's body. Few reading or hearing of these events could imagine that anyone could stoop so low.
"You not only disinterred her but kept her family on tenterhooks as to whether you would return her body. Having stolen the body, you used it as a weapon."
In mitigation for Smith, Michael Topolski QC said he did not seek to "excuse the inexcusable" but said they had acted out of a "perverted sense of morality - a skewed view of the world".
Whitburn (36), of Summer Road, Edgbaston; Smith (39), of Leicester Street, Wolverhampton; Ablewhite (36), of Hawley Street, Manchester, and Mayo (38), of Spring Bank Road, Edgbaston, all pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to blackmail between September 1999 and September 2005.
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