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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 July, 2004, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
New campaign on animal extremists
Primate, RDS/Wellcome Trust photo
Fears are growing about animal rights protests
Animal rights campaigners using terror tactics against scientists and researchers face a crackdown under new government plans.

Ministers will on Friday unveil their strategy for tackling campaigners who harass research companies and their staff at their homes.

Some City figures claim militant campaigners have cost the country more than 1bn in lost investment.

The new plans are tipped to include specialist prosecutors.

New offence?

Some research staff have faced hate mail, threats and demonstrations outside their homes.

The Bank of England has taken the unusual step of acting as banker to Huntingdon Life Science because no other bank would take on the job because of protest fears.

Last week, the building group Montpellier pulled out of work on a primate research laboratory in Oxford after shareholders received threatening letters.

This latest news from the government is not so much to do with clamping down on protests but actually stifling the debate altogether
Mel Broughton
Animal rights campaigner

Friday's announcement could also include a new arrestable offence outlawing demonstrations outside people's homes where they could cause alarm or harassment.

Police can only move on protestors under current laws - although arrest powers could be used if they refused.

A national forum of 43 specialist prosecutors, one for each of the police force areas in England and Wales, are thought likely to draw up a battle plan with police.

Internet campaigns

Police are keen to target the ringleaders of threatening campaigns but say it often proves difficult to track down those responsible and to bring prosecutions against them.

Lord Goldsmith told the Times newspaper: "These people are determined and committed and we have got to be equally determined and committed."

It is thought the proposals mainly involve making better use of existing measures and some pharmaceutical groups believe ministers are only "tinkering around the edges".

Aisling Burnand, director of the Biotech Industry Association, said piecemeal legislation would not solve the problem.

"We have been campaigning for a single piece of legislation," she told BBC Radio 4's World At One.

"We believe it would send a very loud message out that we want to stamp out extremism and stop this terrorism."

There was no cure for half of the world's diseases so limited animal testing was needed, she argued.

'Kneejerk reaction'

Ian Gibson, chairman of the Commons science select committee, said people had to be allowed to make rational arguments in a democracy.

The MP said he had decided against speaking on BBC2's Newsnight on the issue because of his experience of harassment in the past.

Pointing to government plans against a potential terrorist attack, Dr Gibson added: "How irrelevant that seems to me and to people who are intimidated, threatened with their lives, beaten over the heads with baseball bats, loud noises outside their houses and so on."

Mel Broughton, spokesman for animal rights organisation SPEAK, said the animal rights movement was not violent and would achieve successes even without people using direct action.

Mr Broughton, whose group opposes illegal campaigning, accused the government of a "kneejerk reaction".

"There is already a plethora of public order laws and legislation to deal with protests by animal rights campaigners," he told the World At One.

"We feel that this latest news from the government is not so much to do with clamping down on protests but actually stifling the debate altogether."




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