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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 October, 2004, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
East: Curbing the activists?
Deborah McGurran
Deborah McGurran
Editor, Politics Show East

Huntingdon Life Sciences
Threats have caused Huntingdon Life Sciences to relocate

The pharmaceutical industry is under siege from animal activists. British drug companies are warning they may stop research in the UK unless the government cracks down on animal extremists.

Activists forced Huntingdon Life Sciences to move its headquarters to America where it has its registered office.

Security costs were one of the reasons that Cambridge University dropped plans for a new animal laboratory earlier in 2004.

If the threats and intimidation carry on, companies may look at other options and foreign governments are keen to poach British pharmaceutical businesses.

Behind the scenes, in some companies, the idea of moving is being floated despite a package of measures launched earlier in 2004.

Security concerns

Huntingdon Life Sciences protesters
Companies using HLS research allege harassment by activists

These measures aim to tighten security for those in the biotechnology industry involved in tests on animals.

There is governmental concern that the UK's economy is being harmed by the huge security cost of dealing with animal rights campaigners.

There are 232 animal research and testing centres in the UK.

Of that number, approximately 30 are in the East of England.

These include:

  • Cambridge University
  • The Babraham Institute, Cambridge, and
  • Glaxo SmithKline in Stevenage

The pharmaceutical industry employs around 30,000 workers in the East of England.

Recent incidents have led the Home Office to look at the powers of police forces.

laboratory rat
Experiments on rodents led to demonstrations

Animal rights extremists have changed their tactics from targeting pharmaceutical companies who conduct animal experiments to also targeting contractors, shareholders and directors of companies who are involved in the construction of new laboratories.

In mid October, 2004, there was disturbing news that animal rights extremists had stolen the body of a grandmother from a village in Staffordshire.

New measures

The Home Office has also announced three main changes to prevent the harassment and intimidation of individuals and employees outside their homes or at work.

The government bill is expected to become law this session but is not yet on the statute book.

It is now proposed to make it an offence to protest outside homes in such a way that causes harassment alarm or distress to residents.

The Home Office is also proposing to make it an offence for a person subject to a direction to return to the vicinity of the premises within three months.

This means that if a police officer tells a person to leave the area outside someone's house they should not return to protest or intimidate, if they do they are likely to be arrested.

And it plans to make it a criminal offence for a person to behave in such a way that they know they are causing someone else harassment.

The Home Office proposes to cover harassment of two or more people who are connected (e.g. employees of the same company) even if each individual is harassed on only one occasion.

ASBOs applied

Preventative orders such as Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) are another effective measure to prevent further criminal activity.

Recent changes in legislation mean that courts can now impose an ASBO upon convicting an offender for any criminal offence and CPS prosecutors have the power to ask for an ASBO on conviction.

The Police are working with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on the use of ASBOs in respect of animal rights extremists.

One animal rights activist who was recently convicted for a public order offence in connection with protesting at Huntingdon Life Sciences has been made the subject of an ASBO.

Following his conviction, he is prevented from going within a mile of Huntingdon Life Sciences for three years.

Another activist who was recently convicted of aggravated trespass after entering two Cambridgeshire businesses connected with an animal research facility, was also made the subject of an ASBO.

This bans her from entering Cambridgeshire or contacting anyone associated to research company Huntingdon Life Sciences for three years.

Police support

Earlier in 2004, a new police unit, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordinating Unit (NETCU), was formed with Home Office funding and is based in Huntingdon.

The purpose of this Unit is to provide tactical advice and guidance to police forces dealing with extremism and to liaise with the pharmaceutical industry.

But is it a question of too little being done, too late?

Politics Show East wants your views.

That is the Politics Show Sunday, 17, October, at 12.30pm.

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SEE ALSO:
Meet presenter Etholle George
07 Jan 04  |  Politics Show
New campaign on animal extremists
27 Jul 04  |  Politics
Animal activists banned by court
26 Mar 04  |  Cambridgeshire


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