Victims of animal-rights activism confronted MPs in Parliament this week to call for new legislation to stop the rising tide of attacks.
Victims of Animal Rights Extremism (Vare), a new group of academics and businesspeople who have been targeted by anti-animal research activists, told MPs at a meeting this week that the government and police were not doing enough to keep people like them safe.
Clive Page, a professor of pharmacology at King's College London and one of the founding members of the group, said: "Do we have to wait until a politician gets attacked by an animal-rights extremist to see a change in legislation?"
Professor Page, who discovered he was number two on the list of people the extreme group Animal Liberation Front said it wanted to kill, explained that the UK was regarded by many as a dangerous place to do animal research.
He said: "If you were in America and someone said to you, come and run a primate centre in Oxford or Cambridge, would you take the job? Of course not. This extremism is a thoroughly British problem."
One member of the new group, a businessman with links to Huntingdon Life Sciences in Cambridge, receives threatening mail from animal-rights extremists almost daily. A typical letter (above) warns him that he will be infected with Aids. It says: "Be very careful of people walking up behind you because it would not take me long to jab you with one of my infected needles. I know what you look like. I'm waiting..."
Mark Matfield, director of the Research Defence Society campaign group and a victim of animal-rights extremism, said Vare would offer support and advice to people when they were threatened. It will also campaign for a tough new bill on animal-rights activism, similar to the legislation controlling football hooliganism.
Dr Matfield said: "These people all want the problem solved. The basic feeling is: 'I'm an innocent person trying to run a proper business like anyone else. Why am I not being protected?'"
Gill Langley, scientific adviser to the Dr Hadwen Trust, a group that campaigns against research using animals, said: "This group will increasingly shine a spotlight on that tiny minority of animal- rights extremists who break the law and cause injury to others. This detracts greatly from the efforts of non-violent animal protectionists."
Vare's inaugural meeting was expected to coincide with the launch of a government centre for the refinement, reduction and replacement of animal experiments by Lord Sainsbury, the science minister.