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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
Army may help Oxford animal lab
Mouse, RDS/Wellcome Trust photo
The government has pledged to combat "animal rights extremism"
The Army could be brought in to help Oxford University finish work on a controversial animal testing centre.

Building contractor Walter Lilly & Co pulled out of the 18m project on Monday, after a number of high-profile protests by animal rights activists.

Lord Sainsbury, the science minister, is reported to be considering putting troops on standby to help deliveries. They would not be involved in security.

A university spokeswoman said support from the government was welcomed.

In spite of the smokescreen put up by calling us terrorists, all we are doing is attempting to protect animals
Joan Court, protester
The proposal is expected to be among government measures unveiled in the next two to three weeks aimed at fighting what it calls animal rights extremists.

A spokesperson for the Department of Trade and Industry told BBC News Online: "The government has said it will do whatever is necessary to combat animal rights extremists.

"The Home Office, with the support of the Department Trade and Industry is preparing a paper on how the government is to combat animal rights extremism.

"We cannot comment on what is in the paper ahead of its publication, but Lord Sainsbury has made it clear on many occasions the government will lend its fullest support to tackling this issue."

Joan Court
Joan Court staged a 48-hour hunger strike outside the site
The university is in talks with a new contractor to continue work on the project at South Parks Road, which it says is currently ahead of schedule.

A university spokeswoman told BBC News Online: "The university is very keen to ensure that its employees can work in safety and can do their work both to ensure the welfare of animals and advances in medicine.

"Support from the government in doing so is welcome, but it is unclear what form that support might take or whether it will be needed."

Neither the university nor Walter Lilly's parent company, Montpellier PLC, gave reasons for the builder's withdrawal on Monday.

Police inquiry

A police inquiry earlier this year found letters claiming to be from Montpellier bosses urging shareholders to sell or face action from animal rights campaigners.

The Metropolitan Police's National Extremism Tactical Co-Ordination Unit was called in to investigate after company bosses had paint poured over their cars.

Last week, 85-year-old animal rights campaigner Joan Court held a 48-hour hunger strike outside the site.

Ms Court, a retired midwife from Cambridge and member of the Speak pressure group, told BBC News Online: "It makes me worried about what is happening to democracy in this country because in spite of the smokescreen put up by calling us terrorists, all we are doing is attempting to protect animals.

"All our campaigns are entirely peaceful, although they have sometimes involved civil disobedience such as sitting down in the road.

"I think the threat of calling in the army is very bad for free speech in this country."

Protest march

Thames Valley Police has drafted in extra officers to patrol a march to the site by animal rights group Speak on Saturday, at which Ms Court is speaking.

Police say the rally after the march must last no longer than an hour, with a maximum of six people allowed to hand out leaflets and total numbers limited to 300.

Some 120 police will be on duty, including evidence gathering teams and officers on horseback.

The university says the laboratory is intended to replace existing sites and will not mean an increase in tests.

About 98% of the animals there will be rodents, although primates, ferrets, amphibians and fish could also be used.

Builder pulls out of animal lab
19 Jul 04  |  Oxfordshire
Woman, 85, continues hunger demo
15 Jul 04  |  Oxfordshire
Activists vow to stop animal work
17 Mar 04  |  Oxfordshire
Primate research lab plans axed
27 Jan 04  |  Science/Nature

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