Three British animal rights activists were jailed for 12 years each Thursday for their parts in a campaign against a family of animal breeders, during which the remains of an 83-year-old woman were stolen from her grave.

John Ablewhite, of Manchester, northwest England, and Kerry Whitburn and John Smith, both of central England, were each handed 12-year prison terms at Nottingham Crown Court after pleading guilty to a charge of conspiring to blackmail the owners of a guinea pig breeding farm in Staffordshire, 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of London.

CountryWatch: United Kingdom

A fourth defendant, Josephine Mayo, also from central England, was jailed for four years after admitting a lesser part in the six-year campaign against the Hall family, which bred the small animals for medical research purposes.

As part of the campaign, the body of Gladys Hammond, 82, the mother-in-law of one of the Hall brothers, was stolen from her grave in a churchyard.

Her body was only recovered from a nearby beauty spot earlier this month, after Smith revealed its location to police.

Judge Michael Pert told the defendants they represented a danger to society.

"Our laws are made by parliament. If you don't like a particular law there are many lawful means by which you can seek to change it," he said.

"You thought to enforce your view not by reasoned debate or lawful protest, but by subjecting wholly innocent citizens to a campaign of terror."

He said the theft of Hammond's body was their lowest act.

"Few reading or hearing of these events could imagine that anyone could stoop so low," he said.

"You not only disinterred her but kept her family on tenterhooks as to whether you would return her body. Having stolen the body you used it as a weapon."