ANIMAL REFUGE: Marion Eaton with some of her animals in East Peckham GF1008061/10
AN EAST Peckham animal sanctuary owner has distanced herself from a group of animal rights extremists jailed for their part in a criminal conspiracy.
Marion Eaton said her Friend Farmed Animal Rescue centre had once been used as the postal address for campaign group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) and, while she knew group members, she did not support the tactics they are said to have used.
But she claimed that activists she knows were "nice people".
At Winchester Crown Court on Monday, six SHAC members received jail sentences of between 15 months and six years, after a lengthy investigation by five police forces into criminal attacks on companies with links to animal testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS).
Employees and directors were subjected to intimidation ranging from smear campaigns and threatening e-mails to posting hoax bombs and items SHAC claimed were contaminated with HIV.
Such actions would continue, they said, until that company promised to cease trading with HLS.
Thomas Harris, Sarah Whitehead and Nicole Vosper, of Ringwood, Littlehampton and Newquay respectively, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit blackmail.
Jason Mullan, of London; Nicola Tapping, of Ringwood and Alfie Fitzpatrick, of Solihull, also pleaded guilty to conspiring to interfere with the contractual relations of an animal research organisation.
The operation was led by Detective Chief Inspector Andy Robbins of Kent Police, who said: "The criminal tactics employed by members of SHAC were designed to create a climate of fear among their victims.
"Such tactics have no place in a democratic society and in no way reflect the peaceful protests carried out by the vast majority of legitimate animal welfare campaigners."
When told that police had alleged SHAC had started life at her centre, Bush Road resident Mrs Eaton, 52, told the Courier: "That simply isn't true. I used to be the postal address for it, but that's it.
"Of course I know them and they are nice people. They are not this terrorist thing which has been bandied around. That doesn't relate in any way to anybody that I know."
Mrs Eaton, who founded Friend in the early 90s, confirmed she supported animal rights campaigners who used peaceful methods of protest.