The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection claims the Home Office did not thoroughly investigate its allegations of poor care for research animals at Imperial College London and imposed “extremely weak penalties” on staff found to have breached their licences.
In April 2013, The Sunday Times published findings of an undercover BUAV investigation into animal welfare at Imperial’s Hammersmith campus that it says found “appalling animal suffering on a very large scale”. The Home Office launched its own investigation into the allegations and published a report in 2014.
The Home Office report found that there was a “widespread poor culture of care” at the facility, which was broadly down to “failings in management structures”.
The BUAV made more than 180 individual allegations, and the report says that all identifiable cases were “considered by the Inspectorate investigation”. It adds that some were “not attributable to specific individuals or licence authorities”.
The investigation found five instances of non-compliance involving eight people. The Home Office sent letters of reprimand to the eight and required them to complete further training.
But the BUAV said on 14 May that it has now emerged that that only 18 of the allegations were investigated by the Home Office.
It added that Imperial and researchers “seized on the ‘only 5 out of 180’ claim – and thereby sought to undermine the credibility of the BUAV and its investigation in the media”.
Its legal case against the Home Office challenges what it calls the “wholly inadequate care” of animals at Imperial and the “extremely weak penalties” imposed by the Home Office on Imperial staff.
In a statement, the BUAV said: “Weak penalties for licence breaches impacting on animal welfare are part of a longstanding pattern that the BUAV has previously raised with the Home Office as well as a lack of 24-hour care provided by laboratory staff.
“Hardly any UK laboratory provides overnight care for animals, inevitably causing much avoidable suffering.”
Chief executive of the BUAV Michelle Thew said: “We welcome this opportunity to challenge the Home Office over what has the appearance of a deliberate attempt to discredit the BUAV.
“The department and its inspectors are no doubt smarting from their failure to pick up the serious and systemic problems which we uncovered during our undercover investigation at Imperial College,” she added.
A Home Office spokesman said: “It would be inappropriate to comment on this case while legal proceedings are ongoing.”