February 24, 2006

UK scientists defy threats against animal research

By Kate Holton and Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - Two eminent Oxford scientists took a
publicly defiant stand against Britain's often violent animal
rights extremists on Friday, saying the intimidation which
stops vital medical research had to end.

"You have to be really passionate about this to put your
head above the parapet and not many do," said Professor John
Stein, a neurophysiologist.

"The (animal rights groups) have had it all their own way.
They have intimidated people, but the time has come to speak up
and risk it. Who knows what the risk is?" he told the Guardian

Stein and his colleague, consultant neurosurgeon Professor
Tipu Aziz, could be putting themselves at considerable danger.

Britain's largest and oldest animal testing center, in
Huntingdon, nearly collapsed in 2001 when frequent violent
protests caused financiers to pull out.

Plans to build a laboratory to carry out tests on monkeys
at Cambridge University were scrapped in 2004 over spiralling
security costs.

Animal rights activists have also threatened violence
against anyone involved with an animal research center being
built in Oxford, which Stein and Aziz are supporting.

Their stand was strongly welcomed by the Association of the
British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), a strong critic of the
militants' scare tactics.

The two professors will address a march in Oxford on
Saturday to speak out in favor of the new laboratory.
Protesters will also march through the town on Saturday and
police say they hope to keep the two sides apart.

Building work on the 20 million pound ($35 million) center
was previously stopped for 16 months in the face of persistent
campaigns by animal rights group SPEAK. Construction eventually
resumed late last year.

"The ALF (Animal Liberation Front) are actively now saying
that anyone in Oxford is a target," Aziz told the Guardian.

"What we are seeing in Britain today is a minority
dictating how the majority of this country live and that is as
undemocratic a process as can be imagined."


Britain is home to some of the world's most vociferous
animal activists and one security expert told Reuters U.S.
authorities regarded the UK as "the Afghanistan of animal

The government was forced last year to introduce tougher
legislation to target protesters who obstruct experiments and
threaten medical research.

Scientists, pharmaceutical companies and contract research
laboratories have been the target of protests like hate mail,
hoax bombs and even the fire-bombing of scientists' cars.

Thames Valley Police said the majority of protests at
Oxford were peaceful but that 10 people have been arrested
since the start of the year.

Dominic Armstrong of security firm Aegis Defense Services
told Reuters this week they predicted animal rights extremism
would deepen in Britain and would be increasingly exported
across Europe.

However the police unit that deals with the crime, the
National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit, said although
there was significant activity in the country, police efforts
were starting to bear fruit.

SPEAK says it abides by the law but believes it is immoral
to conduct medical experiments on animals in the 21st century.