In January 2018, Sven was sentenced to five years in prison for “conspiracy to blackmail,” in relation to the campaign to close down the notorious animal testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences (recently rebranded as Envigo). HLS is Europe’s largest animal testing laboratory and is the most notorious and protested lab in history. The UK government has gone to extraordinary lengths to stop people protesting against HLS, with increasing targeting and repression of campaigners.
Learn more about the Sven’s case, HLS and the repression of UK animal rights activism below.
On the morning of the 6th July 2012 police in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, raided Sven and his partner’s home and the office of the local animal rights group. The police seized computers, storage devices, printers, cameras and paperwork from both addresses. They were arrested with European arrest warrants for ‘conspiracy to blackmail’ in relation to Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), the UK’s largest animal testing laboratory. They were held in prison for a week before being released on strict bail conditions, having surrendered their passports. A third person was also raided and arrested in the UK.
In early 2014 the UK defendant went to trial and was convicted of committing conspiracy to blackmail between 2001 – 2011, for her part in running Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), a global campaign that fought for the closure of HLS. She was given a 6 year prison sentence.
Sven was charged with committing conspiracy to blackmail between November 2008 – December 2010, accused of carrying out a range of actions, from posting polite campaign letters to criminal damage.
HLS and state repression
Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) is Europe’s largest animal testing laboratory. They kill 500 animals every day.
Because they’re a contract testing facility, they will test anything they’re paid to – including household products, cleaning chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, food colourings, food additives, artificial sweeteners, GMOs, photocopier ink… They’ll poison animals with anything they can profit from.
Some of the animals used in experiments at HLS are monkeys, dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice and birds. Right now there are about 70 thousand animals locked inside the lab facing a death sentence.
Workers at HLS have been routinely exposed for animal cruelty, misconduct and falsifying test data. They’ve been caught dealing drugs on site, simulating sex with animals and most famously, punching beagle puppies in the face. HLS is the only contract testing lab to have had its licence temporarily revoked for animal cruelty. Needless to say, this type of abuse happens every day inside Huntingdon, with another animal dying every 3 minutes.
Compassionate people have been so outraged by what’s happening that HLS has become the most protested animal lab in history and was the target of one of the largest and most effective grassroots animal rights campaign the world has ever seen; SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty). Over the past decade hundreds of companies – including some of the world’s largest financial institutions – have cut their ties with HLS and sworn never to deal with them again. Because of this, HLS are now over £100 million in debt and have recently rebranded themselves under the new name Envigo, in an attempt to escape years of negative exposure and their resulting infamous reputation.
HLS have been repeatedly dragged to their knees and would have been forced into closure many times already, except for help from the UK government, who have vested interests in the pharmaceutical and vivisection industries. In a desperate attempt to protect these interests, the government stepped in and provided a massive lifesaving loan, along with private banking and insurance facilities to HLS. Huntingdon is the only commercial business in history to have received private banking and insurance from the British government.
On top of this, the UK authorities have launched a lengthy campaign of repression against anyone they consider to be a threat to HLS. This has included numerous international police operations, with surveillance, undercover police infiltrators and dozens of raids and arrests. Activists have also been given disproportionately long prison sentences and extreme bail and licences conditions – in some cases, even lifelong ASBOs.
Sven was charged with ‘conspiracy to blackmail’. Conspiracy and blackmail charges have been used increasingly over recent years to repress and dismantle animal rights campaign groups. The implications of these police operations should concern all social justice movements and anyone who organises against corporations or the state.
In 2007 the UK authorities began adapting the pre-existing charge of blackmail to be used against animal rights activists, in order to obtain longer sentences. Blackmail is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.
What is blackmail?
- A person commits blackmail if they make a demand with menaces (threats or harm) i.e. someone needs to make a request and then threats or harm have to be carried out with the purpose of forcing compliance.
- The demand and menaces can be carried out by different people. This means you can be accused of blackmail for demanding something – even if you didn’t threaten or harm the recipient yourself.
- When the demand is made, it must be done with the intention of gaining something for yourself or forcing another to lose something.
- The victim doesn’t actually need to receive the demand or menaces (e.g. an unread threatening email).
- Considering most campaign groups are demanding something, the use of this law against animal rights campaigners is a worrying development.
The police are increasingly using conspiracy charges to create larger and more serious criminal cases, involving a greater number of people. Conspiracy is not an offence on its own; you must conspire to commit another offence. Sven was accused of conspiring to commit blackmail.
What is conspiracy?
- A conspiracy is a plan for you (or someone else) to break the law. You don’t need to take any further action or actually do the act – just planning for someone to do it is enough to be guilty of conspiracy.
- There needs to be at least 2 people involved for a plan to be considered a conspiracy, but there’s no maximum, so it’s an easy way for the police to create cases involving a lot of people.
- The police can also pursue cases against people, even if there’s very limited evidence against them as individuals.
- Someone can be convicted of conspiracy, even if their co-conspirators are acquitted or can’t be identified.
- Conspiracy is also added to charges because describing the offence as a conspiracy and including more defendants makes the crime seem more serious and deserving of longer prison sentences.