Public cash to secure future of animal labs

March 3, 2006

The Government has privately pledged to underwrite the costs associated with new animal laboratories at UK universities after committing up to £100 million to protect the besieged animal facility at Oxford University, The Times Higher can reveal.

The cost of security at the Oxford lab has rocketed as a result of a prolonged campaign by animal-rights extremists. The level of financial support offered by the Government to make sure plans for the lab go ahead has been a closely guarded secret.

But Oxford insiders have told The Times Higher that the figure is up to Pounds 100 million - about five times the original estimated cost of the building.

A senior figure at another UK research-led university said this week that the Government had also offered financial support to other institutions that wished to build animal research facilities.

The source said: "We were told they would underwrite our security costs because we would struggle to get the building insured. They didn't talk numbers but said they would do whatever it takes."

All work on the Oxford site was halted last July after animal-rights extremists targeted the contractors, smashing up building sites and sending threatening letters to company shareholders. But balaclava-clad builders returned to the heavily policed site in November.

Simon Festing, executive director of the Research Defence Society, which campaigns for animal research, said: "There are multiple contractors involved. I am sure they have done deals with different companies that have taken into account the level of risk."

Dame Nancy Rothwell, vice-president for research at Manchester University and a defender of animal research, said: "My understanding is that the Government really means the Oxford facility to happen and will pay what it takes."

One senior Oxford source said: "I am pretty sure this has been partly driven by the pharmaceutical industry. Everyone sees this as a test of government resolve."

Tipu Aziz, the leading Oxford neurosurgeon who spoke out at a pro-animal research rally organised by students on Saturday, said: "I would hope that the commitment to funds will let other centres open up laboratories."

He said there was an amazing turnout at the protest "but I haven't seen any ministerial comment on what happened. A statement of support would have been good".

A spokeswoman for Oxford said: "The Government is committed to supporting the university in the construction of the new biomedical research facility.

The university's strong commitment to completing this building and the benefits that will come from the research conducted there are demonstrated in our resumption of the project in the face of extreme intimidation. This, along with the safety of our staff, students and contractors, remains a priority."

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