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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 November, 2004, 14:16 GMT
New law to protect animal testers
Animal rights protesters
Children can be affected by protests outside homes, say ministers
Animal rights "extremists" face new measures to stop them harassing people who work in animal research.

Law changes promised in the Queen's Speech would make it an arrestable offence to distress people by protesting outside their homes.

And there are plans to help prevent repeated protests outside homes.

Researchers have been demanding action but animal rights campaigners say ministers should be doing more to find an alternative to testing on animals.

Losing investment?

The government says experiments on animals are conducted under strict controls and staff should not be harassed for work which is perfectly legal.

Oxford University Chancellor Chris Patten last week warned that animal rights protesters using violence were undermining "a free and civilised society".

Work on the construction of a new testing laboratory at the university was forced to stop in July after contractors complained they had been harassed and intimidated by some animal rights activists.

What we are talking about here is an extremist campaign attacking people for doing activities which are guided by the law
Caroline Flint
Home Office Minister

The university has since gained a new injunction against the protests.

Elsewhere, pharmaceuticals giant Novartis has suggested threats of violence could mean the company comes close to leaving the UK.

Part of the new Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill would help police order protesters away from people's homes.

There would be a new offence banning anybody directed away by police from returning to the home for up to three months.

Another new offence would outlaw "protesting outside homes in such a way that causes harassment, alarm or distress to residents".

Wrong priority?

The definition of some harassment laws are also to be changed to cover nuisance caused to staff collectively.

Current laws do not cover protesters who, for example, make several harassing phone calls to staff who work together as long as they do not call the same person twice.

The reforms will mean extend the laws to two or more people who are connected, such as if they work together.

Some animal rights groups say the law changes are a knee-jerk reaction aimed more at stifling debate than clamping down on protest.

Heather James, a member of the anti-vivisection pressure group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) said earlier this year: "People who break the law know the risks they are taking. Changing the law is not going to make any difference.

"They should be looking at what the labs are doing, rather than turning their attention to us."

The plans for a crackdown were first mooted by the Home Office in July.

At the time, Minister Caroline Flint said: "We will be strengthening the powers of the police to tackle protests outside family homes because it's not just about the impact on the person targeted but the whole family.

"What we are talking about here is an extremist campaign attacking people for doing activities which are guided by the law."




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Why the government plans to target "extremists"



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