Animal rights activists are to target Oxford University, raising fresh fears that academics will become the primary focus of extremists.
Stop Primate Experiments at Cambridge, a coalition of animal rights groups set up to fight proposals for a monkey research centre at Cambridge, has said it will now focus its efforts on Oxford. The organisation, which has renamed itself Speak, has launched a website dedicated to the Oxford campaign, which will target the new animal housing facility on South Parks Road.
The website lists departments in Oxford that are involved in primate research as well as naming individual scientists who it says have "exploited" monkeys in their work.
The move has been greeted with dismay by scientists, who fear that universities may become a key target for intimidation.
Mark Matfield, executive director of the Research Defence Society, told The Times Higher : "This was predictable. But the danger is that the group has decided to focus on academics and of course universities are particularly vulnerable. You can't put a barbed wire fence around a university."
Clive Page, a professor of pharmacology at King's College London and one of the few academics who regularly speaks out about animal experiments, said:
"If people think they might be the next target, they will think about moving somewhere else."
He said that the decision to abandon plans for the primate centre at Cambridge, announced at the end of January, had galvanised the animal rights movement.
The Speak website claims that the new facility at Oxford will be taking over some of the primate work that was planned for the Cambridge centre.
But an Oxford University spokeswoman strongly refuted this. She said: "This facility was planned long before any decision was taken about Cambridge and it was planned to make our housing for animals better quality."
She stressed the new site would provide housing for animals rather than acting as a research base, and said the university had no plans to extend its animal work.
She added: "There is a certain level of security as standard. But we will be looking carefully at whether further security is needed." Scientists are calling on the government to bring in new legislation to make it easier to prosecute animal rights activists.
Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said: "The government needs to provide a guarantee following the Cambridge fiasco that universities will get the protection they need and the policing and enforcement against intimidation that we expect."