Page last updated at 01:20 GMT, Thursday, 9 April 2009 02:20 UK

Order to release animal test data

A macaque
Macaques are the primates most commonly used in research

Several universities and major colleges have been ordered to reveal information about their animal experiments by the Information Commissioner's Office.

The ruling applies to past and current research at Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester universities, plus London's King's and University colleges.

All five must release details of the numbers and species of primates used.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection had asked for the details under the Freedom of Information Act.

The campaign group requested information from several universities in July 2006 but while some had complied, others refused on the grounds that it could endanger researchers.

There have been several cases of activists targeting companies and institutions involved in animal research.

Risk to personal safety - though real in isolated cases in the past - is hugely exaggerated
Michelle Thew
British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection

In 2004, Cambridge University cancelled plans for a primate research centre because of concerns over spiralling security costs linked to animal rights action.

Oxford pressed ahead with developing its centre, which opened last year after five years, 650 demonstrations and several arrests over a few violent protests.

In February, a man was jailed for fire-bombing the university in protest at the development.

However, Information Commissioner Richard Thomas ruled that releasing the information would not increase the risk to the health or safety of any person, said a spokeswoman.

"The Information Commissioner accepts that the universities remain a current, active target and understands that there is a 'sustained campaign' which continues to pose a 'very real and substantial threat to individuals'," she said.

British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection chief executive Michelle Thew said: "This is an historic ruling.

"Risk to personal safety, though real in isolated cases in the past, is hugely exaggerated and often used as a smokescreen when researchers do not want to tell the public what they do."

Universities say they will comply with the ruling but defended their decisions not to release the information voluntarily.

A University College London spokeswoman said the institution needed to balance public interest issues against the need to protect staff who carried out "lawful, regulated research into life-threatening and debilitating diseases".

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