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The BBC's Rebecca Jones
"Other laboratories may already be wondering who will be targeted next"
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Lord Sainsbury on BBC Radio 4
`It will make it much more difficult for medical research in this country'
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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 17:33 GMT
Lab firm in last-ditch talks
Animal rights protest outside an HLS meeting
Animal rights group hopes for `a monumental victory'
A troubled research firm targeted by animal rights protestors is in last-ditch talks with its bankers.

Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), which has sites in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, confirmed on Monday it was in discussions with the Royal Bank of Scotland over its finances.

It is seeking a further extension on a 22m loan, due to run out on Friday.

The firm confirmed the move following reports that the bank had already cancelled the loan after pressure from animal rights protesters.

If the loan is cancelled, the company, which employs 1,200 staff, could go into receivership.

Anti-vivisectionists, who have repeatedly targeted HLS because it tests drugs on animals, have welcomed news of the firm's financial woes.

Lord Sainsbury
Lord Sainsbury: Life-saving medicines need to be tested
But science minister Lord Sainsbury said most people recognised the importance of testing life-saving medicines.

He called on the Royal Bank of Scotland to base its decisions on commercial grounds, unless it felt unable to support HLS' work.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's World at One he warned that if HLS was closed, other firms could take their research abroad.

"Some jobs would go abroad and some pharmaceutical companies would say 'we're not going to put our research facilities in the UK'.

"We have very strong laws about the safety of drugs and that means that experiments do have to take place.

"I feel, along with a great majority of people in this country, that if we are going to have our lives and our children's lives saved by drugs that we're not so hypocritical that we'll say that research should not take place," he said.

Petrol bombs

Also speaking to Radio 4, Brian Cass, HLS managing director, called on the Government to do more to stop violent activists.

Last year five cars belonging to HLS staff were set alight with home-made petrol bombs in Godmanchester, near Huntingdon.

No-one was hurt but two cars were destroyed and the others extensively damaged.

"The Government should be looking at the criminalisation of organisations like SHAC which have been formed purely to cause or attempt to cause the demise of perfectly legitimate companies like ours," said Mr Cass.

Shares plummeting

Lord Sainsbury said the Home Office was examining the matter but such legislation would be complex.

Last week, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) threatened to step up invasions on branches of the NatWest and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Spokesman Greg Avery said: "We will do anything and everything to damage the image of the Royal Bank of Scotland."

A statement published on SHAC's website on Sunday reads: "We are nearer now than we have ever been to the closure of HLS and could be just days away from a monumental victory. "

On Monday, the share price for HLS, which stood at 113p in March 1997, fell one penny on Monday to 1.5p.

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