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Friday, August 13, 1999 Published at 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK

UK Politics

Controversial cat farm closes

More than 800 cats will need new homes

Animal rights campaigners are celebrating the closure of Hill Grove Farm, the last establishment in the UK to breed cats for scientific research and testing.

RSPCA inspectors worked through Thursday night to remove more than 800 cats and kittens from the site in Witney, Oxfordshire.

The charity has set up a hotline for prospective owners who can give a new home to any of the animals which were once destined to be used in scientific experiments.

Heather James, of Save the Hillgrove Cats, said: "This is one of the happiest days of my life."

The BBC's Richard Bilton: "Animal rights activists now say they've got what they wanted"
Farmer Christopher Brown, who has run the cattery with his wife Katherine for the past 30 years, sought the RSPCA's help to find homes for his stock after deciding to retire from the breeding business.

Violent protests

In recent years, the area around the farm has been the scene of mass demonstrations and violent clashes between police and protesters demanding the farm's closure.

Since March 1997, Thames Valley Police has spent £2.8m protecting the farmhouse and breeding pens.

At least 350 people have been arrested and 21 have been jailed for public order offences, many losing their liberty for a year.

The Browns have also been subjected to a sustained and often violent hate campaign.

'A wonderful day'

Animal activist and television writer Carla Lane said the news of the farm's closure was "magnificent".

"This is absolutely brilliant. It is a wonderful day for all those who care about animals.

[ image: Vets said the cats were in good health]
Vets said the cats were in good health
"What happened there was horrific. Those poor animals were born and bred for vivisection and experimentation.

"I'm sure the RSPCA will have no difficulties in finding homes for these lovely cats."

Robb Webb, a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front, said: "Mr Brown has always said he wouldn't close the farm, but it is clear that animal rights activists have through constant protest, pickets and raids, encouraged him to end this obscene business that offended everyone."

Hate campaign

The farm has become a virtual fortress since animal rights protesters began targeting it more than two years ago.

The Browns hired security guards after they were subjected to repeated death threats and had letter-bombs sent to their home.

"My car has been firebombed, my house burnt and the windows on my house broken on many occasions," Mr Brown said.

"I have been beaten-up, my wife has been attacked and my staff have been attacked.

"I am surprised by just how vicious some of these people are, but they have been misinformed.

"I have simply bred cats here and no medical research has taken place here.

"The cats have received no medication whatsoever, there has been no need."

Farmer laments cats' departure

Mr Brown denied that the protesters had driven him to give up his business.

"Their actions have merely encouraged me to stay on and I have been determined not to give in," he said.

Mr Brown added: "Having reached the age of 61 I feel it is the right time to retire and I look forward to running the arable side of the farm for a few years to come."

Mr Brown said seeing the cats leaving his farm was "an immense wrench".

RSPCA appeal

The operation to safely remove the cats was kept as secret as possible because of fears that animal-rights protesters would converge on the premises and disrupting the removal.

Before the cats were removed they were checked, vaccinated and microchipped by RSPCA vets.

Chris Laurence, the society's chief veterinary officer, said: "All of the cats from Hill Grove Farm are healthy and used to human contact.

"Our aim now is to provide a brighter future for these animals by finding loving new homes for each one."

  • Anyone interested in adopting an RSPCA cat should contact the charity's national cat rehoming hotline on 0906 256 0256.

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