A TRIO of animal rights activists from north Hampshire have been jailed after using blackmail in an attempt to close down an animal testing lab.

Heather Nicholson, of Eversley, near Hook, was a founder member of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac) - an organisation which arranged attacks on firms and their staff across the UK and Europe with links to Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS). The firm ran an animal laboratory in Cambridge.

Along with Gregg and Natasha Avery, also of Eversley, Nicholson masterminded the six-year international conspiracy between 2001 and 2007.

They were assisted by computer expert Gavin Medd-Hall, 45, who researched the victims for Shac, and three "foot soldiers", Gerrah Selby, 20, Daniel Wadham, 21, and Daniel Amos, 22.

During a ten-week trial at Winchester Crown Court, jurors heard that all seven were involved in the conspiracy, based at a bungalow near Hook.

Sentencing the activists, Mr Justice Butterfield called the campaign "urban terrorism" and a "relentless, sustained and merciless persecution" which had made the victims lives "a living hell".

The campaign used tactics such as falsely claiming that managers of companies which supplied Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) were paedophiles.

Firms and staff had hoax bomb parcels sent to them or received threatening telephone calls.

Threats of violence were also used to force companies to cut links with HLS.

Words like "puppy killer" and "scum" were painted on homes and cars of workers, cars were paint-stripped, and used sanitary towels were posted to the victims with a note saying the sender had Aids.

The aim was to target suppliers or any company with a secondary link with HLS, and the campaign would only stop when the company put out a "capitulation statement" saying it would end links.

Nicholson, 41, was jailed for 11 years after she was convicted of conspiracy to blackmail at a trial last year.

Gregg Avery and his wife Natasha, were both jailed for nine years after they pleaded guilty to conspiracy to blackmail.

Medd-Hall, of Croydon, south London, who was convicted of conspiracy to blackmail at the same trial as Nicholson, received eight years.

Wadham, of Bromley, south-east London, was sentenced to five years after he was convicted of conspiracy to blackmail last year.

All were given Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, banning them from travelling to the firms targeted.

Wadham, 21, of Bromley, south London, was jailed for five years after he was convicted of conspiracy to blackmail.

Selby, 20, of Chiswick, London, who was convicted of conspiracy to blackmail, was jailed for four years and Amos, 22, of Church Crookham, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to blackmail was sentenced to four years in prison.