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The BBC's Rebecca Jones
"Other laboratories will already be wondering who will be targeted next"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 18:14 GMT
Pressure builds on animal tests lab
Animal rights protest outside an HLS meeting
Animal rights group is targeting lab's backers
Animal rights campaigners have been holding more protests to highlight their opposition to a leading laboratory that uses animals to test new products.

Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) faces closure by the end of the week unless it can extend its bank loan, which already stands at more than 22m.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has stepped in to support HLS and other research companies, while condemning the protesters.

His official spokesman said on Tuesday: "The prime minister is very pro-science in relation to this.

Lab technician
HLS says number of animal tests is falling

"There is a very big difference between lawful protest, which we support, and intimidation, thuggery and violence which we don't."

The government warned on Monday through science minister Lord Sainsbury that if HLS was closed, other firms could take their research abroad.

On Tuesday, campaigners were targeting London offices of HLS's bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland.

They believe that if they can force the bank to withdraw its support for the lab, then HLS will be forced to close.

'New tactics'

But HLS managing director Brian Cass said that although the lab was a relatively small company, "an attack on us is an attack on the whole pharmaceutical industry".

He has called on the government to do more to stop violent activists.

Lord Sainsbury
Lord Sainsbury: Bank should make 'commercial' choice
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.

Over the past few months, activists have changed their method of attack, and put pressure on the company's financial backers, as well as the laboratory itself.

Heather James, of the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign, said the "new tactic" of targeting the lab's backers was proving to be successful.

"Huntingdon Life Sciences is a business. If we tackle them financially then that is how we are going to win."

HLS, which has sites in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, confirmed on Monday it was in discussions with the Royal Bank of Scotland.

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

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

Animal tests 'halved'

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.

Campaigners say the type of experiments carried out at HLS are unnecessary and cruel.

But HLS says that in the last 20 years the annual number of animals in scientific research has halved and this number continues to fall.

Any unnecessary reduction in the amount of research would have serious consequences for future research into human illness and well-being, the lab adds in a statement on its website.

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See also:

16 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Blair backs animal labs
08 Jan 01 | Business
Lab firm seeks debt extension
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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