Call to arms over animal activists

Pharmaceutical industry challenges business leaders to join fight back against 'extremists'
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Business leaders are being challenged to follow the example of an Oxfordshire teenager and support the fight back against animal rights activists rather than cave in to their demands.

In an open letter published today in The Independent, the UK's pharmaceuticals industry delivers an impassioned plea for all businesses that have been targeted by the animal rights movement in the past to stand together and "banish these extremists to the margins of society".

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry will send the letter to individual business leaders in the coming days.

The letter, signed by the heads of eight leading pharmaceutical and medical research bodies, including Sir Richard Sykes of Imperial College London and Professor Colin Blakemore of the Medical Research Council, highlights the recent rally led by 16-year-old Laurie Pycroft in support of an £18m animal research laboratory in Oxford, which animal rights activists are trying to stop. The teenager, who has since received death threats, has formed a pro-vivisection movement, Pro-Test, and more than 800 people joined the protests in Oxford last weekend.

The letter, drafted by Richard Barker, the director general of the ABPI, says: "The time has come for all those who consider such undemocratic tactics repugnant to make their own commitment. We call on the leaders of the banking, transport, construction and services industries, which have been targets of intimidation in the past, to stand in public solidarity with each other, with British patients and their families, and with the scientists who seek to find cures for human and animal disease."

The Animal Liberation Front has threatened attacks on nearly 100 companies that donated money to Oxford University, in protest at the animal-testing laboratory that is being built. Work resumed on it in December after a 16-month delay due to threats of violence. In July 2004, the construction firm Montpelier pulled out after threatening letters were sent to its shareholders and the value of its shares plummeted.

The letter, which is also signed by the heads of the Wellcome Trust, the Research Defence Society, the BioIndustry Association, the Association of British Healthcare Industries and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, says: "A grassroots movement is growing to defy those who threaten and intimidate in the cause of animal extremism. These concerned individuals look to leaders in British life to stand alongside them. We, those directly involved in life sciences, are glad to do so. And the British Government has committed to use its powers to eradicate this violent movement."

One of the main targets of animal rights groups has been the animal testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences, whose managing director, Brian Cass, was attacked outside his home in Cambridgeshire in 2001, leaving him with a three-inch head wound. HLS then lost its bankers, Royal Bank of Scotland, and its auditors, Deloitte, and other companies severed their ties with HLS after becoming targets of animal rights fanatics themselves. That forced the Bank of England to offer banking services to the firm. Last October the New York Stock Exchange unexpectedly blocked the share listing of HLS's parent.

The drug developer Phytopharm has been without a house broker since Canaccord resigned last June. An executive at the Canadian firm found a bomb under his car, planted by animal rights extremists.

Recently two GlaxoSmithKline executives, Simon Bicknell and Sir Ian Prosser, have become targets. Letters sent to their neighbours accused them of being rapists and the house of one was daubed with "paedo scum".

According to the ABPI, there has been an increase in the number of aggressive attacks. Philip Wright, of the ABPI, said: "Eight incendiary devices, coupled with the fact that there were also six attacks on people causing injury, is a worrying development." The figures showed there were 85 instances of damage to property last year compared with 177 the previous year.

A history of violence

2001 Brian Cass, managing director of Huntingdon Life Sciences, attacked outside his home and left with a three-inch head wound.

2002 RBS withdraws banking services to Huntingdon Life Sciences.

2003 Deloitte resigns as auditor to Huntingdon Life Sciences. Bank of America and Marsh & McLennan also sever their links with it.

2004 Construction firm Montpelier pulls out of the Oxford animal research laboratory project.

June 2005 Phytopharm loses its broker Canaccord. September: New York Stock Exchange blocks listing of HLS's parent.

February 2006 GlaxoSmithKline executives Simon Bicknell and Sir Ian Prosser targeted in hate campaign.