Notorious animal rights extremists cleared of waging ‘psychological warfare’

Two of Britain’s most notorious animal rights extremists have been cleared of waging “psychological warfare” on a businessman after a jury was not told of their criminal past.

Mel Broughton and David Blenkinsop, who have both served lengthy jail sentences for their parts in bombing campaigns on animal testing labs, used tracking devices and hidden cameras to monitor the boss of a transport company and his staff.

Broughton even confronted transport boss Russell Morgan and his wife and eight-year-old son in a pub and accused him of being a “puppy killer”, Cambridge Crown Court heard.

But the pair were cleared of any wrongdoing after telling jurors that they were attempting to “expose offences committed against animals”.

Their campaign was against companies linked to a laboratory previously known as Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), which has famously been targeted by activists since the 1990s.

Jurors were not told that in the early 2000s Blenkinsop was sentenced to a total of more than nine years for his part in bombing campaigns against a meat lorry and cars belonging to employees of HLS, and attacking its then boss Brian Cass with a pickaxe handle.

Jailed for petrol bombing

The court was also not told about the decade-long sentence Broughton was handed in 2010 for planting homemade petrol bombs at Oxford University to try and stop them opening an animal testing laboratory.

Prosecutors did not apply to put their “bad character” evidence before the jurors as they said the nature of their previous offences were different. Laws governing the introduction of previous offences state that they must be relevant to the alleged facts of the current offending.

Campaigners have now questioned that decision, stating that in this case Broughton and Blenkinsop’s tactics may have been different, but the aims and the “intimidation” were the same.

There are calls for new laws to protect those working on lifesaving drugs from harassment.

Mr Morgan’s company Impex was contracted to transport animals from MBR Acres, an animal breeding organisation, to LabCorp, which conducts medical research and testing using animals and is the successor of HLS.

MBR Acres has since 2021 been the subject of constant protest from “Camp Beagle” in which Broughton is a central figure. In late 2021 Broughton and Blenkinsop focused their attention on Mr Morgan, waging “psychological warfare” as part of a campaign which saw their vehicles blocked and their property attacked and walls outside daubed with the word “scum”, the court heard.

Tracking devices under cars

Andrew Hallworth, prosecuting, said that it “moved into targeting him personally and his family and his private life. That is what we say in short where these defendants crossed the line”.

A tracking device was first found under one of Impex’s vehicles in late November 2021 when it went in for MOT and other devices were then discovered under other vans and staff’s personal vehicles.

Mr Morgan told the court that there were “daily” protests where obscenities were shouted at him including “that I’m a puppy killer, a murderer and scum” which left him “terrified” for his family and forced him to move his business premises.

His wife, Amy, told the court that the protests had also affected her son, saying: “He’s terrified, he doesn’t even want to play in the garden because he’s scared of people at the bottom of the driveway or bottom of the garden. He’s just become a scared little boy and he was never like that.”

Describing the impact on her husband, she said: “He’s just so stressed, he’s paranoid about everybody that we meet and see. He’s worried all the time about keeping us safe.”

The court heard that the defendants placed “rock cams” which look like rocks outside the Impex premises and followed one staff member to their home and gym.

Violence, bombs, arson and chemical attacks

A police officer monitored them in a coffee shop on a video call taking place where a female was talking on the laptop about “weeks of action” and “waging psychological warfare” on someone and his neighbours.

Mr Hallworth said: “That’s what this is, this is waging psychological warfare on this family and their business.”

But the pair insisted that they were “motivated throughout by a desire to expose offences against animals”.

The campaign against HLS in the early 2000s, which saw employees targeted with violence, bombs, arson and chemical attacks, led to a crackdown by then prime minister Tony Blair who introduced new laws preventing anyone interfering with a contract of an animal research organisation.

Broughton and Blenkinsop, who are also well-known hunt saboteurs, were each cleared of this offence as well as a separate charge of stalking.

Their previous convictions include Broughton’s conviction for conspiring to commit arson in 2010 and conspiracy to cause an explosion likely to endanger life or property, of which he was convicted in 2000.

Burglary and grievous bodily harm

Blenkinsop’s convictions are for having an article with intent to damage/destroy property, burglary and grievous bodily harm, all in the early 2000s.

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “There are strict laws governing when bad character evidence can be introduced as part of the prosecution case – the evidence in this case involved unrelated convictions from over 20 years ago.”

Chris Magee, spokesman for Understanding Animal Research, a not-for-profit that explains how animals are used in science, said: “The victims have placed their faith in the police and the courts and have been badly let down. The tactics of the protest may be different this time around, but they still amount to manipulation and intimidation.

“Recent medical breakthroughs, from cancer treatments for kids and dogs, to the new drugs for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are all the direct result of animal research.

“This research is sanctioned by society and approved by mixed-membership ethics committees as a worthwhile exemption to our blanket ban on such experiments. It’s not for self-appointed moral arbiters to declare that they alone get to choose the limits of ethical science, or to use force and intimidation if they don’t get their way.

“I’m sure that activists across many different issues will regard this case with interest as to the limits of legal protest.

“Perhaps if MPs are considering new powers to protect themselves from harassment and intimidation, they might consider extending these to the rest of the UK population.”

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