Animal lib vendetta makes life hell for top scientist

Couple tell of life under siege as terror campaign starts afresh
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The wife of a leading neuroscientist spoke yesterday of her family's life under siege by anti-vivisection groups after a renewed campaign of terror began against them.

As Professor Colin Blakemore takes up the presidency of The British Association for the Advancement of Science, his wife, Andree, revealed to The Independent the constant stress of living with the protesters' threats. "For 25 years we've been a top target. It gets unbearable. It would be easy to die of a nervous breakdown if we kept looking over our shoulders. On the day you receive a letter bomb or your property is vandalised you feel strong and think you'll be OK. But today I feel very upset," she said.

At 3am on Saturday, paint stripper was thrown over a car parked in the family's drive and the tyres were stabbed. Ironically, their 10-year-old cat was burned by the substance after lying on the car.

The demonisation of Professor Blakemore, of Oxford University, was triggered in 1986 when he did research that involved sewing shut the eyelids of anaesthetised kittens. The research helped medical understanding of amblyopia, the commonest form of child blindness.

During the past 10 years, the windows of his Oxfordshire house have been smashed, Mrs Blakemore has been threatened with death and the couple's three children with kidnap. A mailing tube filled with half a pound of explosives and sharp needles was sent to his home by an organisation called The Justice Department in December 1993. And in April, 400 campaigners demonstrated outside his house. Yesterday, Professor Blakemore said: "It is not unlike the situation in Northern Ireland. I suffer intense harassment, as do my family and fellow scientists."

Two years ago Professor Blakemore, 53, formed a think-tank with Les Ward, the director of Advocates for Animals, an Edinburgh charity, to bring the two-sides together for constructive debate. Although The Boyd Group has always excluded the Animal Liberation Front and the violent minority, like The Justice Department, Professor Blakemore said he would now be prepared to consider granting them a place at the negotiating table.

"The Boyd Group is an arena for general dialogue. I want progression even if it means including the violent groups - but only so long as we do not lose the peaceful groups," he said.

Mrs Blakemore, 52, contacted The Independent "in the hope that the public and legitimate animal rights groups will express their revulsion at such gratuitous infliction of suffering on innocent human beings and now on an animal."

Professor Blakemore said: "Our cat Sharon was very distressed. She had obviously been on the bonnet and had burnt her paws and face. I would never be granted a license to apply paint stripper to a cat's face and paws without anaesthetic but this is what they've done."

The spokesman for the ALF said it looked like the work of the organisation. Robin Webb said: "It sounds like the ALF. I do not believe Professor Blakemore about his cat being hurt. It's the kind of emotive thing he'd try and claim. I find his concern hypocritical. He has a history of stitching up eyelids of monkeys and kittens.

"He has written saying he wants to meet me. But a private informal meeting would not get anywhere - there needs to be broader representation."

Professor Blakemore estimates his department uses six monkeys a year and 12 cats. He said: "I have been forced to consider and reconsider the basis of my moral position as a scientist. Every day a scientist should think about it and never be lackadaisical.

"I want, just as much as the ALF, to stop using animals but it's just a question of when."