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Animal rights attack leader jailed

The leader of an animal rights group which attacked branches of Barclays Bank because of the company's then links to the animal testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) has been jailed for 12 months.

Thomas Harris, 27, from Ringwood, Hampshire, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit criminal damage at earlier hearings.

Christopher Potter, 20, and Maria Neal, 21, both from Seggs Lane, Alcester, Warwickshire, were also each sentenced to 12-month prison sentences, suspended for two years, as well as 120 hours of unpaid work.

The three conspired to attack four branches in Hampshire in 2008 by daubing graffiti such as "murderers" and "scum" on doors and gluing post boxes and cash machine slots.

They also painted "ALF" - standing for Animal Liberation Front - on the side of the buildings.

In addition, they damaged a car belonging to someone they mistakenly thought had links to a company supplying HLS during the conspiracy, causing damage costing £7,500 to repair, while a van belonging to FedEx, another Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac) target, was also attacked by the extremists.

Roger Climie, prosecuting, said that Harris was in charge of Shac at the time of these attacks, but added that it was accepted that Harris was abroad at the time of two of the bank attacks.

He is already serving a four-year jail term for conspiracy to blackmail companies linked to HLS in an attempt to close it down and his sentence on Thursday runs consecutive to this term.

Sentencing the three defendants at Winchester Crown Court, Judge Keith Cutler said: "Each of you have pleaded guilty to a conspiracy which, quite frankly, reflects an appalling period of behaviour."

He described Potter and Neal as "young and idealistic" and added: "I hope when you look at yourselves two years ago you recoil in horror and think 'what on earth was I doing?' I hope it will haunt you for the rest of your life."

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