Friday, December 4, 1998 Published at 15:15 GMT
Scientists on alert after death threats
Hunger striker Barry Horne: Said to be on the verge of coma
By News Online's Rachel Nixon
An animal rights groups is threatening to kill medical researchers if a jailed animal welfare campaigner, now on the 59th day of a hunger strike, should die.
The Animal Rights Militia has threatened to assassinate 10 leading scientists in the event of the death of 46-year-old Barry Horne, who is serving 18 years for a two-year firebombing campaign.
The former dustman, reported to be in a serious but stable condition at York District Hospital, is demanding that the Labour government honour a pre-election pledge to give a date during the current parliament by which time a royal commission will be set up to look into animal experiments.
The Home Office has said that it is "not prepared to allow policy to be dictated by blackmail".
Catalyst for violence
Animal Liberation Front press officer, Robin Webb, says the Animal Rights Militia has said right from its foundation that it is prepared to physically harm "animal abusers".
Although it has sent letter bombs and been responsible for arson attacks, the group has never seriously harmed anyone, he added.
But Mr Horne's death could be the "catalyst" to push the ARM into more extreme action, Mr Webb said.
And his death might also provoke a response outside the ARM, Mr Webb warned. It could lead to "an explosion of anger over Labour's broken promises over the whole animal welfare movement".
This could take the form of marches, demonstrations and civil disobedience, he told BBC News Online.
Horne is not asking the government to outlaw anything, Mr Webb added.
"The demand is simply that the government which was elected on a platform of trust honour that trust in one small area," he said.
Horne began his hunger strike at Full Sutton Prison on 6 October, but he was transferred to York District Hospital when his condition worsened.
Horne's supporters are staging a 36-hour vigil outside the hospital. He also receives up to 40 cards a day from wellwishers, and a Website, showing him giving a clenched fist salute, has been set up in his honour.
Horne has issued instructions ruling out force-feeding should he lapse into a coma. Even if he resumes eating, doctors have put his chances of survival at less than 70%.
This is Horne's third hunger strike. His first strike - which lasted 35 days - began in January 1997, while the second - lasting 46 days - began in August last year.
The case for animal research
Those who carry out animal research for medical purposes also believe that there may be an upsurge in militant animal rights activity especially if Horne dies.
Dr Mark Matfield, executive director of the Research Defence Group, has previously been targeted by the ALF.
Dr Matfield insisted there was still a case for animal testing in medical research.
"The reality still, and as far as we can see in the future, is that there are some parts of medical science that we cannot do any other way."
He said: "If we didn't do the animal testing we would kill an awful lot of patients with untested drugs."
Dr Matfield added: "If [Barry Horne] got his way, a large part of medical research in this country would come crashing to a halt. Is that what we want? Obviously not - as a society we want the treatments for the diseases."
In 1994, Horne, a member of the Animal Liberation Front, started a series of fires in shops on the Isle of Wight which caused £3 million worth of damage.
He was arrested two years later by detectives who saw him plant bombs in shops in Bristol.
At his trial at Bristol Crown Court he was convicted of four counts of arson, five of attempted arson and one of possessing articles with intent to damage property.