30 January 1967 |
Dunvant , Wales
|Other names||Heather James|
|Known for||Animal rights campaigns, specifically Consort beagles (1996), Save the Hill Grove Cats (1997), and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (1999); jailed for 11 years in January 2009.|
|Spouse(s)||Greg Avery (divorced c. 2002)|
|Parents||George Barwick and Shirley Barwick, née Nicholson|
Heather Nicholson (born 30 January 1967), also known as Heather James, is a British animal rights activist. She is best known for having co-founded three pivotal animal rights campaigns in the UK in the 1990s. In 1997, Consort Kennels in Hereford, which bred beagles for animal-testing labs, was closed after a ten-month campaign led by Nicholson and her husband at the time, Greg Avery. In 1999, Save the Hill Grove Cats closed Hill Grove Farm in Oxfordshire, which bred cats for laboratories, after a two-year campaign, also led by Nicholson and Avery. In the same year, Nicholson, Avery, and Natasha Dellemagne set up Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) with the aim of closing Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a contract animal-testing company based in Cambridgeshire.
Nicholson was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment in January 2009 for conspiracy to blackmail in connection with the SHAC campaign. Six other senior SHAC activists, including Avery and Dellemagne, were jailed for the same offences; all seven were alleged by police to be key figures within the Animal Liberation Front. Nicholson pleaded not guilty to the charges. She expects to be released in November 2012, taking into account time spent on remand.
Nicholson was born in Dunvant and raised in Killay, Swansea, the daughter of George Barwick, a teacher and vegan, and his wife, Shirley Barwick, née Nicholson. She attended Olchfa Comprehensive School. A lifelong ovo vegetarian, then vegan, she spent time as a teenager working for the RSPCA in Singleton Park, Swansea, but left because she couldn't bear to see the animals euthanized. Her mother told the Western Mail: "She used to come home crying her eyes out because they had a policy then of putting down healthy dogs they could not find homes for."
Consort beagles and Save the Hill Grove Cats
Nicholson became involved in the animal rights movement when she was 26, after attending a demonstration at Swansea airport to protest against live animal exports. During a similar demonstration at Coventry airport, she met her future husband, Greg Avery, another animal rights activist. She joined Avery to found a campaign against Consort, a company in Ross-on-Wye that bred beagles for laboratories, which closed 10 months later. Nicholson and Avery co-founded a subsequent campaign, Save the Hill Grove Cats, which saw the closure two years later of Hill Grove Farm near Oxford, which bred laboratory cats. The couple then set up SHAC in 1999, along with Natasha Constance Dellemagne, a friend of Nicholson's, with the aim of forcing Huntingdon Life Sciences to capitulate using the Consort and Hill Grove tactics. The company was saved when the British government stepped in to provide it with banking facilities, after the UK's major banks severed ties with it as a result of the campaign.
Nicholson and Avery divorced in or around 2002, but continued to live and work together. In 2002, Avery married Natasha Dellemagne, now known as Natasha Avery, and the three of them lived for a time together in a rent-free cottage in Woking, Surrey. The cottage was owned by Virginia Jane Steele, also known as Alexander, a wealthy supporter of the animal rights movement.
Huntingdon Life Sciences is Europe's largest contract animal-testing company, testing everything from pesticides to drugs, on behalf of a wide range of commercial clients, on around 75,000 animals a year, including rats, rabbits, pigs, dogs, and primates. HLS was the subject of an undercover investigation by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection in 1989, which alleged that workers routinely mishandled the animals, shouted at them, threw them into their cages, and mocked them for having fits during toxicity tests. Nicholson, Avery, and Dellemagne set up SHAC in November 1999, after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals obtained undercover footage showed HLS staff punching, shaking, and laughing at beagles in the company's main laboratory in Cambridge, England, while, in the HLS New Jersey facility in the U.S., staff were shown dissecting a twitching monkey who was still alive and screaming, and one of the technicians can be heard saying, "shut your noise, or I'll bite your face off. " This is captured on video.
The SHAC campaign was marked by the practice of secondary and tertiary targeting, whereby not only primary targets and their families were subjected to intimidation, but also anyone who did business with them, along with their families and business contacts. A pub where one of the primary targets went to relax, for example, might become a secondary target, with tertiary targets developing among anyone who supplied the pub with goods and services. Nicholson and Avery had used similar tactics during previous campaigns.
Being targeted meant crowds of protesters standing outside the home, blowing whistles and letting off fireworks throughout the night, spraying graffiti on property, breaking windows, spreading rumours to neighbours that the target was a paedophile, and sending hoax bombs and obscene mail. Threats of violence were sent, signed on behalf of the Animal Liberation Front or Animal Rights Militia. Action against a target would stop only when they told SHAC in writing that they had severed ties with the person or company that had brought them to SHAC's attention; their statements would be posted on the SHAC website, and the threat against them was withdrawn. The aim was the total economic and social isolation of Huntingdon Life Sciences. The police and courts regarded the SHAC campaign as an example of "urban terrorism" and "a vehicle used to terrorize ordinary decent traders carrying out perfectly lawful businesses." Nicholson described it as "a straightforward battle between good and evil, mercy and money, compassion and cruelty."
Convictions and injunctions
Nicholson has said she has received 50 injunctions in connection with her activism. In January 2005, she was given a five-year Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO), an injunction instructing her to stay away from animal research laboratories. She was not allowed to go within 500 metres of Huntingdon Life Sciences's facilities in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, or contact the owners, shareholders, employees, or their families. She reportedly breached the injunction in 2006 and was held on remand. Also in 2006, she was jailed for affray for assaulting a family, including a 75-year-old woman, whose car displayed a sticker supporting fox hunting.
In January 2009, after pleading not guilty at Winchester Crown Court, Nicholson was jailed for 11 years for conspiracy to blackmail during the SHAC campaign. Police said they had obtained evidence to secure the conviction by bugging a 2007 meeting in a cottage in Moorcote, near Hook, Hampshire, attended by Nicholson and six other SHAC activists, as well as hired cars they had used. The bugging was part of Operation Achilles, a police operation against animal rights activists that led to 32 arrests in May 2007, carried out by 700 officers in England, Amsterdam, and Belgium. Nicholson was in Swansea visiting her parents when she heard about the arrests. She drove to her home in Eversley, Hampshire to give herself up, where she was arrested and denied bail.
The court heard that Nicholson was among seven people who made false paedophile accusations, caused criminal damage and used bomb hoaxes to intimidate companies associated with HLS. Two hundred and seventy companies severed ties to HLS as a result of becoming secondary and tertiary targets of SHAC. Avery and Dellemagne were jailed for nine years, and four other activists received sentences of between four and eight years. Nicholson was also served with an ASBO, restricting future contact with companies targeted in the campaign. After sentencing, one activist, Adrian Radford, also known as Ian Farmer, told The Sunday Times that he had infiltrated SHAC on behalf of the police. He said that Nicholson had acted as a courier within SHAC, transporting cash to animal rights activists in other parts of the country.
In an interview with Wales on Sunday, Nicholson defended her role in SHAC. "We were right to take a stand against big business torturing animals for profit." She told the newspaper it was, in her view, incredible that, as someone protesting to end cruelty, she had been jailed with child killers such as Rosemary West. "Even the judge said I was not accused of actually intimidating anyone. It was just this amazing charge they came up with, 'conspiracy to blackmail,' that was some kind of catch-all." A spokesman for Huntingdon Life Sciences told The Guardian after Nicholson's trial: "Freedom of expression and lawful protest are important rights, but so is the right to conduct vital biomedical research or to support organisations that perform such research without being harassed and threatened." Nicholson's father defended her activism. "She formed SHAC ... simply because the thought of animals being tortured for financial gain broke her heart," he told the Western Mail after learning of her sentence. "The campaign group ... had every right to stick up for trusting animals being subjected to pain. In my view, she’s a saint." Her parents are now looking after her four rescue dogs.
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