City speeds up squad to take on animal rights extremists

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The Independent Online

The City task force being set up to tackle extremists who target companies and their employees could be in place by the end of next month.

The City task force being set up to tackle extremists who target companies and their employees could be in place by the end of next month.

The National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF), whose members hold shares worth over £600bn, is speeding efforts to set up the group. It has already approached a chairman - not yet named - who is lining up five other board members.

The NAPF had thought that the task force would not be in place until next year. It has stepped up a gear because of the publicity generated by companies recently targeted by animal rights extremists.

The still unnamed task force will be part-time. It has not yet been decided how it will be funded. Its remit will be to provide advice and protection to companies and individuals being targeted.

The NAPF is seeking help from the police, the Financial Services Authority and other City institutions.

Reports that the task force will have a £25m kitty to give in reward for information leading to arrests of extremists are wide of the mark. It could have a "bounty fund", but nothing has been decided.

Construction company Montpellier last month pulled out of building an animal testing laboratory for Oxford University after animal rights extremists targeted shareholders and staff.

On Friday, Home Secretary David Blunkett unveiled new legislation to clamp down on the extremists.

GlaxoSmithKline chief executive Jean-Pierre Garnier has broken ranks to go on the record, last week calling such activists "despicable cowards". It is the first time such an important business figure has spoken out about animal rights extremism so strongly.

There is only limited help currently available to companies targeted by extremists. The Department of Trade and Industry offers tax credits and some funding to help companies pay for security where employee safety is being threatened.

The issue has moved up the political agenda. Science minister Lord Sainsbury announced earlier this year the opening of a research centre to look at how to reduce the use of animals in experiments and how to minimise suffering where no viable alternative could be found.

Organisations such as Speak, set up to protest against the Oxford University animal testing laboratory, say that they do not use violence.

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