Animal rights extremists sentenced for criminal campaign across Europe


Two members of an extremist animal rights group have been sentenced for their part in a campaign of terror carried out across Europe including the use of incendiary devices aimed at shutting down a British animal testing company.

British woman Natasha Simpkins and husband Swiss-born Sven Van Hasselt, both members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac), were sentenced at Winchester Crown Court after pleading guilty to conspiracy to blackmail.

Van Hasselt, 31, was jailed for five years and Simpkins, 30, was given a two-year prison sentence suspended for two years.

Michael Bowes QC, prosecuting, told the court that Van Hasselt was personally involved in setting fire bombs which destroyed sports cars and other vehicles belonging to employees of companies linked to Cambridge-based Huntingdon Life Sciences plc (HLS).

The Huntingdon Life Sciences facility in Cambridgeshire was targeted by extremists (Chris Radburn/PA)
The Huntingdon Life Sciences facility in Cambridgeshire was targeted by extremists (Chris Radburn/PA)

The aim was to put HLS out of business by terrorising supply companies into cutting ties with it.

The campaign included the desecration of a grave and theft of an urn belonging to the mother of one employee, Mr Bowes said.

The series of attacks, which happened in France, Switzerland and Germany during 2008 and 2009, included paint stripper being placed on cars and graffiti being left at employees' homes warning: "Drop HLS or you will be dead."

Mr Bowes said that the use of incendiary devices was an escalation of the tactics used by Shac.

He said that Simpkins took part in one criminal damage in Dusseldorf, Germany, and was involved in communications on behalf of Shac with blackmail target Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, a supplier of HLS.

He said that she worked alongside former soldier Debbie Vincent, who was jailed for six years in 2014 for her part in the conspiracy.

Mr Bowes said: "Throughout the period late 2008 - August 2009 there was then an intensive criminal campaign in Europe against, in particular, Novartis.

"The criminal acts perpetrated in Europe in furtherance of the conspiracy involved an escalation in seriousness by the use of real incendiary devices resulting in arson attacks and a grave desecration."

A further seven Shac members, who were based in Hampshire, were jailed for a total of 50 years in 2009.

The two defendants, who have been recently living in Bournemouth, Dorset, were extradited from the Netherlands after being tried there for their part in a liberation attack on a mink farm which set loose 5,000 animals, the court heard.

Adrian Waterman QC, defending Van Hasselt, said that he suffered from Asperger syndrome and had been treated for mental health problems in his youth.

He said that he was a "troubled soul" and added: "He regrets it and cannot fathom how on Earth he came to be involved."