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The BBC's Kim Barnes
"The government believes HLS is carrying out valuable research"
 real 56k

Dr Mark Matfield, Research Defence Society
"What Huntingdon Life Sciences does is safety testing on all sorts of things, particularly new medicines"
 real 28k

Monday, 2 July, 2001, 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
Government lifeline for lab test firm
Protesters at Huntingdon Life Sciences animal lab
Activists have targeted Huntingdon Life Sciences
The government is to act as banker to the controversial drug-testing company, Huntingdon Life Sciences, to try to stop animal rights extremists driving it out of business.

Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), which carries out cancer and other medical research on animals, will be given a bank account in an unusual move by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

No commercial banks want to provide an account because of threats from extremists.

It shows that the government is prepared to stand up to the intimidation by these extremists

Dr Mark Matfield
Defence Society for Medical Research
The move to offer facilities at the Bank of England is expected to be confirmed by DTI ministers later on Monday.

The government is thought to regard the nature of HSL's highly specialised research work as vital.

New legislation was introduced in May to curb the activities of animal rights extremists.

Earlier, in January, the government gave Cambridgeshire Police a 1m grant to meet the cost of covering demonstrations at Huntingdon Life Sciences.

Scientists' welcome

Dr Mark Matfield, president of the Defence Society for Medical Research, has welcomed the banking help.

He told The Independent newspaper: "This is a hugely important decision.

"Not only does it allow HLS to continue work but it shows that the Government is prepared to stand up to the intimidation by these extremists."

It was praised too by Professor Colin Blakemore, head of physiology at Oxford University.

He said the move was "essential" in the face of action that was "tantamount to terrorism".

"Frankly, I have not been in support of the notion that banks should have to stand up and have to fight the moral battle for the country as a whole," he told BBC News.

No target plans

Campaigners spearheading protests against HLS said they had no plans to target the Bank of England.

A spokesman for the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty Campaign (SHAC) said they had campaigned only against banks with gave HLS money or loans, not those that simply offered a current account.

Animal rights activist outside HLS
Protesters blamed for widening losses
"I can't see why we would want to protest against the Bank of England unless it also gave the company a loan.

"If HLS can't get banking facilities, that says something about people's view of them.

"Millions of companies and groups have current accounts.

"SHAC has a current account.

"What does it say about HLS if they can't get one?"

Members of SHAC have been targeting companies with links to HSL.

In April activists occupied the roof of offices of broker Charles Schwab Europe in Birmingham.

Activists' pressure

They also held protests at the firm's London branch.

Schwab later announced it was severing links with the research firm.

The financial institution was Huntingdon's last big private client stockbroker for its shares, following the withdrawal last March of its two remaining market makers following threats from activists.

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See also:

28 Mar 01 | Business
Lab firm ditched by share brokers
22 Mar 01 | Business
Huntingdon unveils more losses
19 Jan 01 | Business
Research industry under threat
29 Jan 01 | Business
US group bails out Huntingdon
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