Animal rights activists seeking the closure of a controversial vivisection laboratory have warned shareholders to sell up or face protests at their homes.
Members of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection Reform Group, which claims to be a militant offshoot of the union (the BUAV), have written to 1,700 people holding shares in Huntingdon Life Sciences Laboratory threatening doorstep protests unless they sell their interest within seven days.
In its letter, the group says it accepts some shareholders will be unaware of Huntingdon Life's animal experiments and has no quarrel with people "who bought shares knowing nothing about the cruelty they were supporting". But it warns that unless they forward a contract note to the campaigners' address in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, by 3 April proving they have sold their shares, they may be targeted by protesters two days later. The group is threatening to stage "surprise 24-hour protests".
The threatening tone of the letters was swiftly condemned by the BUAV itself, which said it had "nothing whatsoever" to do with the splinter group. "We are committed to peaceful protests against animal experiments and would not condone these kind of threats against members of the public," a spokeswoman said.
A spokesman for Huntingdon Life said researchers and shareholders had been targeted in the past and were being given fresh warnings about the latest threat.
A Home Office investigation in April 1997 uncovered unsatisfactory conditions at the company's laboratory and inspectors were shown video film of dogs being punched.
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