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The BBC's Mandy Baker
"The deal will be welcomed by the government"
 real 56k

Brian Cass, MD, Huntingdon Life Sciences
"It's a great day for Huntingdon and we're absolutely delighted"
 real 56k

SHAC's Greg Avery
"This is a deal that has been forced on Huntingdon....all they have done is to survive bankruptcy"
 real 56k

Saturday, 20 January, 2001, 07:31 GMT
Drug testing lab saved
Demonstration outside Royal Bank of Scotland
Protesters picketed the Royal Bank of Scotland
The drug testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences has been saved from closure.

A deal struck late on Friday means the Royal Bank of Scotland will sever its links with the company and be replaced by an unnamed US financial group.

The deal is certain to outrage animal rights protesters who say they will identify the new investors and put pressure on them to pull out.

The government welcomed the deal saying it safeguarded the future of the company and 1,100 jobs in the UK.

The term of the loan has been extended until 30 June 2006, HLS said in a statement on Saturday.

We've all got to wake up to the fact that animal research remains absolutely essential to the discovery of medicines

Lord Hunt
Health Minister
The company feared it could face receivership.

It had already received three extensions for repayment of its 22m bank debt.

Anti-vivisectionists objecting to Huntingdon Life Sciences' (HLS) use of animals in testing products including medicines, foodstuffs and weed killers targeted its laboratories, customers and shareholders in a drive to close the company.

Royal Bank of Scotland has been targeted by campaigners intent on persuading customers to close accounts over the bank's links with HLS.

On Friday, anti-vivisectionists picketed the bank's headquarters in the City and, after being denied entry, turned on the nearby office of investment bank Merrill Lynch, which they claimed was an HLS backer.

Citibank and HSBC are among investors who have sold shares in HLS following pressure from animal rights campaigners.

Health Minister Lord Hunt said the government was determined that animals should only be used in experiments where absolutely justified.

'Research essential'

"But we've all got to wake up to the fact that animal research remains absolutely essential to the discovery of medicines as well as the assessment of safety and efficacy of new treatments," Lord Hunt said.

"Driving animal research overseas would leave us all losers - patients, the NHS, the UK-based industry and the economy as a whole.

HLS managing director Brian Cass called for swift action to prevent investors being bullied in the future.

He wants the Companies Act to be changed to allow the names and home addresses of shareholders and directors to be kept secret.

But Mr Cass added that it was also down to the financial institutions to show the courage to stand up to the protesters.

HLS protester
A protester during an anti-HLS demonstration
"Financial institutions generally have not been supportive," he told the BBC.

"They have actually given in to this terrorism and therefore encouraged it."

But Heather James of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty remains confident they will triumph in the end.

"We have our strategy planned out," she said. "We know what we're doing.

"We will close Huntingdon Life Sciences. It's as simple as that."

Liberal Democrat science spokesman Evan Harris called on animal rights activists to stop "the intimidation, harassment and use or threat of violence".

We must now have a rational debate on medical research using animals

Liberal Democrat science spokesman, Evan Harris
"If new laws are needed then the Liberal Democrats will co-operate with the government to produce acceptable measures which will protect law-abiding individuals and businesses and also protect free speech and legitimate protest," he said.

Mr Harris also called for an end on concessions to "militancy" by banks, stakeholders or politicians.

"We must now have a rational debate on medical research using animals," he said.

"It is time for the Royal Commission that the government promised in their manifesto and for so-far silent health ministers to help put the case for the responsibly regulated animal testing which they require companies like Huntingdon to carry out."

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19 Jan 01 | Business
Research industry under threat
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