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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 05:33 GMT 06:33 UK
Woman, 85, in hunger strike demo
by Anna Lindsay
BBC News Online, Oxford

Joan Court
Joan Court has been an animal rights campaigner for 25 years
Exposed to the elements for two days, with only a sleeping bag for shelter and no food.

For many people one third the age of Joan Court this would be a challenge.

But the 85-year-old is embarking on a 48-hour hunger strike over a new 18m centre at Oxford University that will house animals destined for research.

The former social worker and midwife told BBC News Online: "I think it's imperative for us to make our protests as moral agents."

Ms Court, of Cambridge, will begin fasting outside the facility, in South Parks Road, Oxford, at 1000 BST on Wednesday.

I keep wondering about the weather and thinking I must get hold of a good umbrella
Joan Court

The centre, which the university says will replace a number of existing animal houses, is currently under construction.

University officials say the amount of research carried out on animals, mostly rodents, is not increasing.

Ms Court, who has been an animal rights campaigner for 25 years, said: "I went to the site for a regular, weekly protest last Thursday and the sheer sadness of it all got to me.

"So I thought to myself, 'well at least I could do a hunger strike'.

"Gandhi influenced me a great deal when I was younger - at the time, he was bringing down the British Empire in India with hunger strikes.

"I don't think we can bring down the vivisection industry, but we can give it a good try.

"We intend to stop the building being built if we can by one means or another.

"I just don't think we should violate the rights of creatures who have no rights; it's the same as slavery but I hope it won't take 100 years to stop this."

She said she had done little preparation for the hunger strike, to be held outside the construction site, but has a sleeping bag at the ready to keep her warm at night.

"I keep wondering about the weather and thinking I must get hold of a good umbrella.

"I've got a sleeping bag, books and bottles of water and I'm sure there will be other people in Oxford who will be around to bring me more water."

Leukaemia and cancer treatment

Ms Court was a prominent figure in the campaign and eventual victory against plans by the government and Cambridge University to build Europe's largest primate laboratory.

University bosses say animals at the Oxford University centre will only be used in research programmes of the highest quality and where there are no alternatives.

They say the facility will provide animals for research into the treatment of diseases such as cancer, leukaemia and heart disease.

About 98% of the animals at the centre will be rodents, but depending on the granting of other Home Office licences, there may also be some amphibians, ferrets, fish and primates.

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