Oxford University will get financial support from the Government to ensure that its controversial animal research facility goes ahead despite rising security costs, Lord Sainsbury, the Science Minister, revealed this week.
The Department of Trade and Industry this week unveiled tough measures to tackle the intimidation of businesses by animal-rights extremists. This follows last year's campaign of threats against contractors involved in the building of Oxford's £18 million facility, which finally caused them to pull out.
Lord Sainsbury refused to disclose exactly how much money the Government had offered Oxford, but he said: "We've made it clear that we will help with the extra costs that inevitably will come."
The DTI has proposed amendments to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill that could mean a jail sentence of up to five years for animal-rights activists who cause "economic damage" through organised campaigns of intimidation.
This will give police more powers to halt attacks against universities, the employees of beleaguered companies such as Huntingdon Life Sciences and businesses that supply or work with animal research facilities.
Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, said that if such regulations had been in place last year, "it would have enabled Oxford and the police to have worked together, to identify the people responsible and then to bring them to court".
She said that the police would now be able to treat relatively minor offences, such as pouring paintstripper over a university employee's car, as part of a major animal-rights campaign - and thus as more serious than if they had been considered in isolation.
Lord Sainsbury said intelligence reports showed that there were about 200 animal-rights extremists in the UK and just a few main organisers. He added: "It is really quite a small group of people but, as you can see, they are having a serious impact."
David Holmes, Oxford's registrar, said: "Oxford University welcomes any reasonable legislation that can offer protection to suppliers and contractors without impeding peaceful and lawful protest."
A spokesman for the Victims of Animal Rights Extremism support group said:
"All sorts of people have been harassed and attacked by animal-rights extremists. For many victims, it has been a fearsome and life-changing experience. They are even too frightened to come out into the open for fear of reprisals."
But David Thomas, legal spokesman for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said: "There is certainly a concern that the Government is getting the balance between protecting people from harassment and allowing legitimate protest wrong. It has always been perfectly legal to seek to persuade companies to pull out of particular areas - think of apartheid."
'Make them pay for their crimes'
Extremist threats, compiled by the Research Defence Society
- 'Time to destroy Huntingdon Life Sciences and all the deviants who support them and keep them going. Time to make the killers pay for their crimes'
- 'This directory contains the home addresses of very important shareholders and some customers. Please use this as your bible and everyday tool. These people must be hammered relentlessly by every single one of us!'
- 'They can put razor wire around their offices and labs, but are they prepared to live like that in their homes?'
- (Following a list of animal research workers who had left) 'These cretins did not leave because they suddenly grew a conscience or were asked in polite letter writing campaigns, they left because they suffered persistent harassment 24 hours a day and couldn't take any more.'