UK terror tourists hit Europe's animal labs

January 13, 2006

Animal rights attacks are on the increase internationally as extremist "terror tourists" fan out across Europe, The Times Higher can reveal.

Exclusive data given to the national policing unit for domestic extremism show that violent attacks against animal research laboratories and their suppliers spread from the UK to other countries in 2005.

According to these figures, seen by The Times Higher , the UK topped the league, with 83 serious attacks last year.

Much activity was focused on Oxford University, which confirmed this week that research funders, including charities, had become the latest targets in the campaign to halt building of its new animal research laboratory.

But the UK is no longer alone. Sweden was particularly hard hit last year, with 55 violent actions reported. There were 21 attacks in the Netherlands, 18 in Italy, 14 in Switzerland and 12 in both Germany and Spain. Ten other countries were also on the hit list.

Simon Festing, executive director of the Research Defence Society campaign group, said: "Extremists are having a tough time here, and they are going elsewhere. They chased Huntingdon Life Sciences to the US and that was ferocious. This move to Europe is more recent and is taking many people by surprise."

He added: "We would like to keep people here, in the same way that we control the movement of football hooligans. We don't want the idea that there are hordes of UK extremists touring Europe."

Dr Festing said that these so-called direct-action attacks, thought to be the work of the Animal Liberation Front, included scare tactics such as firebombing cars and destroying property.

Philip Wright, director of science and technology for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: "We are definitely seeing a displacement of attacks on to the mainland. There are attacks on the European offices of UK companies, as well as targeting of European research facilities and their customers and suppliers."

He added: "Ironically, the UK may now be the safest place to do biomedical research as we have the best legislation. But while we've got good resources and policing, we can't take our eye off the ball."

A spokeswoman for Oxford said the university remained committed to the completion of its biomedical research building.

But she said: "We are concerned that a number of charities and other funding organisations that generously support research across a range of subjects have been targeted by animal rights organisations."

She added: "We continue to review the coverage and efficacy of our High Court Order in light of targeting activities, and take advice from legal experts about how this might be extended to afford protection to groups not presently covered by the original order."

Dr Festing said that the academic community was braced for attacks against Oxford to get more serious as activists became increasingly frustrated by the police crackdown.

He said: "There has been a concern that because the acts of harassment against individuals have become more difficult [under new legislation] the extremists are reverting to the old tactics of arson and more extreme activism. The big worry is that they will do something more serious."

He said that research funders had been very concerned to find their names and addresses posted on the website of Speak, the organisation campaigning to stop the Oxford lab. "Many of them have been phoning us and asking for advice," he said.

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