Saturday, October 30, 2010

A terrorist called Mumsy: The retired nurse who was the mastermind behind a vicious and ruthless IRA-style gang of animal rights fanatics

To her neighbours in Littlehampton, Sarah Whitehead was a pleasant, if slightly dotty, former nurse. While surrounding homes in the West ­Sussex town were well-kept, the 52-year-old let her garden become overgrown — providing ­private sanctuary, she said, for all manner of unwanted pets, from guinea pigs to rescued dogs.

By day, the dark-haired woman was often seen out walking her dogs with a younger, blonde companion — her lesbian partner. By night, she was heard talking to her assorted animals in the garden.

‘She was always polite and would nod hello,’ says one neighbour. ‘We knew she kept loads of creatures in her back garden, but she really did try to keep herself to herself. She was a bit odd — but no odder than half the folk you meet.’

To add to the impression she gave of being a harmless, ­quintessentially English eccentric, she was also known by the nickname ‘Mumsy’ to her wide circle of young friends, who ­visited from around the country.

But all this was a cynical, well-rehearsed sham. For there was ­nothing remotely maternal about Sarah ‘Mumsy’ Whitehead.

From her home, where she used sophisticated computer technology to plan attacks, Whitehead was one of the key figures behind a ­shadowy group of animal rights fanatics who waged a campaign of terror against anyone connected — however tenuously — to any forms of testing on animals.

In a network that stretched from southern England to Europe and the U.S., Whitehead was part of an ­alliance of extremists who dug up human remains, smeared enemies as paedophiles and even targeted ­couriers and caterers supplying Home Office-licensed laboratories.

This weekend, as Whitehead begins a six-year jail sentence for the ­campaign of terror (and she is already complaining to prison officers about being made to wear leather shoes) the full details of her double life can be revealed for the first time.

Whitehead’s capture — along with the jailing of former tailor Greg Avery, another leading activist — has ­provided an unprecedented insight into the secret world of these fanatics, who for years have evaded arrest by operating in ‘cells’ and undergoing extensive training in how to avoid police surveillance.

‘They studied the structures of the IRA and also held regular training sessions at safe houses, where they were told how to spot undercover officers and ensure they weren’t being followed,’ says Andy Robins, the dog-loving detective who arrested Mumsy and her followers after a five-year undercover operation, codenamed Achilles.

‘Sarah Whitehead was a corrupting influence on younger members,’ adds Robins. ‘She was a mother figure to some of the others, hence the ­nickname. But she was also utterly committed to her cause.’

Jailed alongside Whitehead were other, younger members of the gang: Nicole Vosper, 22, Thomas ­Harris, 27, Jason Mullan, 32, and Nicola ­Tapping, 29. Alfie Fitzpatrick, a ­public ­schoolboy aged just 17 when he was recruited, was given a ­suspended sentence.

All the youngsters worked alongside Whitehead in Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), a seemingly respectable pressure group formed in 1999. SHAC volunteers even became a feature of the British High Street, where Whitehead and her fellow ­volunteers collected funds and tried to recruit new members.

Up and down the country, volunteers also distributed shocking ­pictures (later found, in fact, to include material from illegal labs in the Middle East) of alleged cruelty at Huntingdon Life Sciences, the ­subject of SHAC’s increasingly aggressive campaign.

Employing 16,000 people, Huntingdon is the largest private company involved in testing medicines and chemicals on animals, with its global headquarters in Cambridgeshire. The company says that its research breakthroughs have saved and enhanced the lives of countless human beings.

‘This is nothing to do with animal rights — this was a criminal ­conspiracy, involving blackmail and violence, designed to ­create a climate of fear among their victims.’

Publicly, Whitehead and other ­members of the group preached non-­violent protests against Huntingdon. But privately, they were secretly ­plotting ‘operations’ — including fire-bombings and acid attacks — on all aspects of its business, with the aim of forcing it to close down.

The strategy was straightforward: any businesses with any connection to Huntingdon, including even sandwich delivery men and cleaning firms, were warned in telephone calls to sever all ties.

If the warnings went unheeded, anonymous letters were sent to the neighbours of these ordinary businessmen and women, warning that they were convicted paedophiles and could pose a threat to children.

Mud stuck. Some Huntingdon employees were forced to leave their homes. In what amounted to blackmail, the targets were offered a deal: stop working with Huntingdon and your name will be removed from ­websites and the attacks will stop. Facing ruin, many local businesses did just that.

The violence worked. SHAC was raising £3,000 a week in street ­donations alone, meaning Mumsy Whitehead and leaders of the group could be full-time activists.

Huntingdon was in meltdown, with staff leaving and suppliers refusing to deliver. The share price collapsed — from £300 in the 1990s to 3p in 2001.

(c) Daily Mail


LS's vodka supplier said...

SHAC will have to work hard to spin this one, an utter and complete failure, the entire higher command compromised, the inner circle infiltrated, full supporter and donation records in the hands of the police, a new groomed generation already behind bars.

This article from the Daily Mail shows perfectly the full extent of the failure of the SHAC tactics and its people.

I've just been online and sent a bottle of whiskey to the boys at NECTU for a job well done.

Witse said...

The funniest thing about this post is the idea that Sarah Whitehead was the braines (!) behind some operations. Those of us who have met her find it surprising she could organise a piss up in a brewery.

Perhaps that's why SHAC were so easy to infiltrate and bust ?

Medawar said...

Were we going to get some more information on the house in France?

Is Alfie as sweet and innocent as the judge decided: he was educated en-swiss, where there have been many arsons and a grave robbery.

Anonymous said...

Poor old Lynn Sawyer, on her lame, vanity project nectuwatch website she has written a rambling (vodka influenced ?) article with her opinion of this piece.

Lynn seems to be unable to understand that these people broke the law and were convicted because of that. Instead she drones on for some time with an attempt at justification for their crimes by comparing them to other criminals.

As much as Lynn trys to portray these criminals as some sort of freedom fighters or heroes the obvious reality is that they are cheap blackmailers.

Real AR worker said...

Those of us who remember Sarah Whitehead and the dog knapping episode will share Witse's incredulity that she could be the brains behind any criminal enterprise. That being said it is worth remembering what this bunch of vegans did to justify their convictions. None of it required much in the way of master planning or intelligence.

Compare their failure to the real work in the cause of animal rights by groups like the LACS, the RSPCA etc. The LACS achieved a ban on fox hunting through legal lobbying, public campaigns and political work. The RSPCA helps thousands of animals every week without once breaking the law.

Aside from the failure of their actions which contributed nothing to the cause of closing HLS they helped not one single animal.

the isle of Lesbos said...

Not sure how Sarah's partner is going to feel as it's been revealed that Sarah and Nicole are an 'item' in prison.

Bloody nice bloke said...

Medawar need not worry about Alfie, ever seen Tim nice but dim ?

Swiss arsons and a grave robbery are well beyond him. He was a foot-soldier, a nobody, a dogsbody. A trust fund activist and nothing more.

Adam of Brenen said...

Meanwhile the cartography challenged SHAC Sweden are at it again.

SHACWATCHERS may well remember this was the SHAC group that managed to demo outside of the home of a dentist with no links to HLS because he shared a name with their target.

Well they have spent some money on a sat nav and this week managed to find AstraZeneca in Södertälje. However what they managed to demo outside of was the old Astrazeneca building not the new one which is some 300 yards away. As a consequence they spent 45 minutes shouting at a software company who had moved in three weeks ago. Security guards for the building tried to explain to them that Astrazeneca were no longer there but they were ignored.

This SHACWATCHER wonders if the great Viking explorers and navigators of the past are sitting in Valhalla shaking their heads at what Swedish youth has become.