Campaign by activists pushes Huntingdon into £4.2m loss

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The Independent Online

Huntingdon Life Sciences, the animal testing group, revealed yesterday that the campaign against the company by animal rights activists had led to a steep fall in business towards the end of last year.

Huntingdon Life Sciences, the animal testing group, revealed yesterday that the campaign against the company by animal rights activists had led to a steep fall in business towards the end of last year.

In the three months to 31 December the company posted an operating loss of £4.2m, compared to an operating profit of £5,000 the previous year. The period saw an exceptional charge of £1.2m to cover the cost of attempting to refinancing the company's debt.

Huntingdon was close to bankruptcy after its lenders, led by Royal Bank of Scotland, decided not to extend a £23m loan. Alternative financing was only found in January, when the company's biggest shareholder, Stephens Group of America, took over the loan.

Andrew Baker, Huntingdon's executive chairman, said: "Unfortunately, the most visible feature of this past year was the abusive and sometimes violent campaign waged by so-called 'animal rights' activists against the company and our shareholders, clients and financiers.

"This campaign, which fed the uncertainties surrounding our refinancing of the company's bank debt, certainly had a negative impact on orders and study starts during the fourth quarter and the early part of 2001," he said. The refinancing charges did not cover the deal that rescued the company, but the cost of unsuccessful attempts under time pressures to find another backer.

Brian Cass, the company's managing director, said that the company's challenging year in 2000 saw a falling-off in orders. This partially reversed the recovery in 1999 after the new management team took control the previous year.

Mr Cass said: "With our refinancing now in place and the UK Government committed to providing a safe and productive environment for researchers, we're optimistic about, and committed to, making 2001 a year to rebuild our momentum at both the top and the bottom line."

In the year 2000 as a whole, operating losses increased to £4.9m from £3.8m in 1999. There was a further exceptional charge of £1.1m to cover a writedown of assets. Revenues in the fourth quarter of 2000 were down on the third quarter but still ahead of the fourth quarter of 1999. Sales for 2000 increased by 9 per cent to £63.3m, but that was much slower than the revenue growth rate seen in 1999.

The campaign against the company by animal rights activists, led by the group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac), is continuing. Last month Mr Cass was attacked by three masked men carrying baseball bats. Shac denied that the attack was linked to them.

Huntingdon shares closed down 0.5p at 5.5p. They have plummeted from 113p in 1997.

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