Oxford lab not sole target

March 10, 2006

National anti-terrorism police are advising researchers outside Oxford on how to handle attacks by animal-rights extremists, even alerting schools to protect their children from abduction, The Times Higher can reveal.

Media attention has focused on Oxford University's new animal lab, which has been besieged by activists for many months, with contractors, academics and funders all receiving threats.

But biomedical researchers outside Oxford say they also face intimidation.

A scientist at one research-intensive university said that her family had been assigned a member of the national anti-extremism unit to support them, after a campaign of threats by activists.

She said: "It impacts on every corner of your life. They told us we should inform the school. We have warned the teachers that no one should collect the children unless they are known to them."

The threats to her family began with nuisance phone calls, then paint stripper was poured on her husband's car, and finally a letter was circulated to 100 houses in the neighbourhood telling people - falsely - that her husband was a convicted paedophile.

The scientist said they were targeted because her husband's company had a tenuous link to the Cambridgeshire research firm Huntingdon Life Sciences.

But she said: "It certainly isn't just happening in Oxford and Cambridge.

Our head of security led me to believe there are others in my university who have been targeted because of their research. I've spoken to a colleague who has been told to check under his car before he gets into it."

She added: "The clear message I am getting from my university is that this is not a cause for us to fight - we should leave it to the politicians to sort out."

But the Research Defence Society, which works with universities to defend animal research, said this was misguided and unhelpful.

Simon Festing, executive director of the society, said: "There needs to be some rational risk assessment. The person who delivers bottled water to HLS is at greater risk than the researcher using mice and rats in a university."

He added: "I hear with despair that universities have told researchers not to reveal what they do at dinner parties. And I don't think you need to tell your child's school that you do animal research. These people work on fear, and the best thing to do is not to respond."

 

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