A HUSBAND and wife from north Hampshire have been charged with conspiracy to blackmail after major police operation to target animal rights extremists across the UK and Europe.
Gregory Avery, 39, and Natasha Avery, 38, of Lower Common, Eversley, were charged on Thursday evening.They are due to appear before Portsmouth magistrates court this afternoon.More than 700 officers and police staff were involved in the dawn raids, mainly concentrated in the South East of England, which took place on Tuesday.Two 52-year-old women, from Bramley and Old Basing, and a 23-year-old man from Eversley were arrested during the raids and subsequently released on police bail.Officers from Hampshire Constabulary were part of the five-force operation - described as one of the largest police operations to target animal extremism in the UK - which saw seven premises in Hampshire targeted.Warrants were also executed at premises in Berkshire, Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Greater London, Merseyside, Worcestershire, Lancashire, Northumbria, Yorkshire and Strathclyde, and arrests were made.No arrests were made as a result of warrants being executed in Belgium and the Netherlands.The raids centred on alleged offences including burglary, conspiracy to blackmail and offences under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act.Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Leppard (ok), of Kent Police, who was in command of the swoops, said the operation was designed to target both individual crimes and alleged conspiracy to commit acts of extremism against animal research groups and individuals.Mr Leppard said: "Although the vast majority of animal rights protesters campaign lawfully, a small minority seeks to force change through criminal action."While animal rights extremism affects the whole of the UK, there are a greater proportion of incidents in the south east."Police confirmed that documents, mobile phones and computers were seized during the early morning raids - which were the culmination of a two-year investigation - along with cash totalling £100,000.Hi-tech crime specialists are examining the computer equipment and are working with financial investigators from the City of London Police Economic Crime Unit.A total of 11 people have now been charged with a number of offences relating to criminal activity associated with animal rights extremism.Twenty other people have now been released on police bail and one person has been released without charge. A 40-year-old woman attended Guildford Police Station on Thursday. She was arrested and is being interviewed by police. Police confirmed that searches in Hampshire, Berkshire, Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Greater London, Lancashire, Merseyside, Northumbria, Worcestershire, Yorkshire and South Wales are now complete.