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Monday, 8 January, 2001, 16:03 GMT
Lab firm seeks debt extension
Lab rat
Some animal testing is essential, says Huntingdon
Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), the drugs testing group targeted by animal rights protesters, is seeking a fourth extension from bankers in a long-running effort to restructure debts.


We will do anything and everything to damage the image of the Royal Bank of Scotland

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty
The firm, which may lose its listing on the New York Stock Exchange because of the poor performance of its shares, revealed on Monday it was again asking lenders for extra time to repay 22m in borrowings.

Huntingdon has already gained extensions to 30 November, 5 January and, the firm said on Monday, until 19 January.

The company announced in August that it had reached a preliminary agreement with a US private equity firm, FHP Realty, over raising cash to pay off the bank debt.

Protesters delay deal

The deal, yet to be voted on by shareholders, involved the sale of Huntingdon's laboratories in Cambridgeshire, UK, and Princeton, US, which would then be leased back to the company.

HLS blamed pressure from animal rights protesters for delays in sealing the agreement, which has been substantially modified, a company spokesman told BBC News Online on Monday.

Anti-vivisection campaigners, angered by the firm's use of animals in its research work, have mounted protests outside the firm's UK labs and targeted HLS backers in an effort to get the site closed.

Protesters firebombed at least 10 employees' cars last year, prompting threats from the UK Government to grant police extra powers to clampdown on animal rights extremists.

Closure threat

Campaign group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) on Monday pledged to step up invasions on branches of the NatWest and the Royal Bank of Scotland, leaflet passers-by and "target" directors of the banks following the latest debt extension deal.

Testing time for Huntingdon
2000
Aug: announces debt refinancing
Aug: five employees' cars firebombed in one day
Oct: debt repayment deadline extended to 30 Nov
Nov: reveals 1.9m loss for third quarter
Dec: debt deadline extended to 5 Jan
Dec: stock suspended from NYSE

2001

Jan: US fund manager, Joseph Dowling, resigns from board
Jan: announces two week debt extension, and further talks with bankers
"The directors are the ones who are making the decisions," SHAC spokesman Greg Avery told BBC News Online.

"We will do anything and everything to damage the image of the Royal Bank of Scotland."

Members of SHAC, which claims a mailing list of 10,000 supporters, has played a key role in the closure of centres in Oxford and Herefordshire which provided animals for experiment, Mr Avery said.

The firm also claimed victory in decisions by investment houses Philips & Drew and HSBC to sell Huntingdon holdings last year, following protests.

"We aim to close Huntingdon down in three years," he said.

Key safety role

A spokesman for Huntingdon, which tests the safety of products from medicines to weed killers, restated the firm's confidence in its future, and said it would not bow to "bullies".


We have a vital role to play in ensuring products such as medicines are safe for people to use

Huntingdon Life Sciences
"We have a vital role to play in ensuring products such as medicines are safe for people to use," a company spokesman told BBC News Online.

"That is what the British Government wants, and the British people wants. And we meet operating standards in England that are among the toughest in the world."

The refinancing deal, while taking longer than expected, was very achievable, he said.

"It has taken us long than we anticipated. A number of operations we had hoped for backing from have reviewed that decision in light of political activity."

Share decline

HSBC's decision to sell off Huntingdon shares last month, following pressure from anti-vivisectionists, was "staggering", the spokesman said.

"If you are going to give into bullies, as a precedent, that is terrifying," he said.

The sell off was a further blow to shares which, while 113p in March 1997, stood at 2.75p in afternoon trading in London on Monday, 0.25p down on the day, and giving the firm a market valuation of a little over 8m.

The decline prompted the New York Stock Exchange, which operates a $50m minimum valuation threshold, to suspend trading in the firm's shares two weeks ago pending a full delisting.

"That was disappointing, but our shares are still freely tradeable in London," the company spokesman said.

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See also:

01 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Major condemns 'urban terrorists'
30 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Animal rights extremists targeted
28 Aug 00 | UK
Arsonists target lab staff
24 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Labour row over animal tests
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