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Wednesday, 17 January, 2001, 18:13 GMT
US bank cuts ties with ailing lab firm
Animal rights activists protest outside an HLS meeting
Animal rights protesters: told by Citibank of the shares sale
Citibank has joined the growing band of investors to cut ties with Huntingdon Life Sciences, the research firm that animal rights activists have helped drive to the verge of bankruptcy.

The US-owned bank has written to protesters against Huntingdon's use of live animals in experiments, saying "any connection" with the lab firm has ceased.

Pressure group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), which has published a copy of the letter on its website, claims Citibank controlled nearly 10 million Huntingdon shares.

Citibank on Wednesday confirmed the letter had been sent.

Shares rally

But news of the sell-off failed to reverse a rally in shares in Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS).
Lab technician
HLS: seeking extra cash

HLS stock closed at 4.75p on Wednesday, well below early highs of 6.25p, but still 73% up on the day.

The shares, which fell to 1p earlier this week, have risen on news that the government has held talks with lenders over 22.5m which HLS currently has until Friday to repay.

HLS, which was originally due to repay the debt at the end of August, is seeking a fourth repayment extension.

The firm has had problems to find alternative funding, as anti-vivisectionists have put pressure on potential investors.

Failure to extend the latest repayment deadline from Friday could spell receivership for the company, which employs 1,200 people at its UK headquarters near Cambridge.

City pressure

Citibank's move follows sell offs by HSBC last month, and the disposal earlier last year by Phillips & Drew of an 11% stake in HLS.

The firm's broker, WestLB Panmure, also departed.

These City moves followed pressure from anti-vivisectionists who have pledged to target not only HLS, but its customers and financial backers in a drive to force the company to close.

Protesters object to HLS's use of animals in testing products such as medicines, foodstuffs and weedkillers.

SHAC last week reopened an action campaign against Royal Bank of Scotland which, with two unnamed US banks, are major backers of HLS.

Names published

The SHAC website on Wednesday urged campaigners to "get outside and inside" branches of RBS and NatWest in an effort to persuade the banks' customers to close accounts.

[Banks] must learn that to betray the animals inside HLS is a decision they will regret for years to come

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty

"RBS/ NatWest... must learn that to betray the animals inside HLS is a decision they will regret for years to come," the SHAC website said on Wednesday.

The site also includes a list of HLS customers and shareholders, and directors of NatWest and RBS, including address details.

Anti-vivisection extremists have firebombed the cars of HLS employees and issued death threats, prompting the government to consider extending police powers.

Government clampdown

But the government has supported the work of HLS as necessary to ensuring the safety of products such as drugs, herbicides and food additives for humans.
Jack Straw, Home Secretary
Jack Straw: clampdown on extremists

Home Secretary Jack Straw on Wednesday repeated threats to draw up tough new legislation to prevent animal rights extremists protesting outside executives' homes, and sending threatening letters.

"The kind of research carried out by Huntingdon Life Sciences and other similar companies is essential to pharmaceutical research, which in turn helps to prolong so many millions of lives and to treat illnesses," Mr Straw said.

"It is outrageous that their lawful activities should be so disrupted in this way."

Cambidgeshire police are to receive an extra 1m to cover the costs of tackling protests outside Huntingdon's headquarters.

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See also:

17 Jan 01 | Business
Shares in animal tests firm surge
16 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Blair backs animal labs
08 Jan 01 | Business
Lab firm seeks debt extension
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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