Page last updated at 21:56 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Appeal over animal rights fire-bomb conviction

Mel Broughton
Mel Broughton was jailed at Oxford Crown Court in February 2009

An animal rights campaigner jailed for 10 years for fire-bombing Oxford University has started an Appeal Court fight to clear his name.

Mel Broughton, 48, of Semilong Road in Northampton, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit arson in February last year.

The court heard he had targeted Queen's and Templeton colleges over plans to build an animal research laboratory.

Broughton argues he was found guilty on the basis of unreliable DNA evidence.

He was arrested after two improvised devices, made up of fuel and fuses made from sparklers, exploded at Queen's College sports pavilion in November 2006, causing almost £14,000 worth of damage.

'Great public concern'

Two similar bombs were planted underneath a portable building at Templeton College in February 2007, but failed to go off.

Broughton, a leading figure in an animals rights movement set up in 2004 in protest at plans to build an animal testing research laboratory at Oxford, protested to police that he was a peaceful protester only.

His appeal against the conviction was before Lord Justice Thomas, Mr Justice Kitchin and Sir Geoffrey Grigson, sitting at London's Criminal Appeal Court.

The appeal heard the prosecution had claimed in the original trial that Broughton's DNA was found on a matchstick used as part of the fuse in one of the failed Templeton College devices.

Broughton's barrister, David Bentley QC, argued that the "reliability" of that DNA evidence was "not sufficient" for it to be admitted before the jury.

However, prosecution lawyers insisted the DNA evidence had been "validated" by "techniques which were entirely adequate".

Lord Justice Thomas reserved his judgement on the case at the end of a half-day hearing, to allow the court time to consider the complicated scientific evidence.

"It is the duty of this court to see whether the judge came to a decision that was reasonably open to him. This sort of evidence is of great public concern," the judge added.

The Appeal Court will give its ruling on Broughton's appeal at an unspecified later date.

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