AND JAMES CUSICK
Packages containing threatening letters and phials of unidentified powder sent to two trustees of Wellcome Trust this week were postmarked Beckenham, home of Wellcome drugs company's main research centre.
Thames Valley Police in Oxford do not believe this to be the work of the Animal Liberation Front, which has targeted Wellcome before by sending letter bomb devices through the post.
Forensic and explosives experts are conducting controlled laboratory tests on the powder in the phials, which associates of the trustees believe were sent to show the "potential" of future devices that could be sent through the mail.
A police spokesman said the packages did not contain any of the mechanics, such as wiring or trigger devices, needed to construct a potential letter bomb. However, he added that the packages were thought to be explosive devices by the recipients.
Police are concentrating their investigations on the crucial position the trustees hold in the £9bn takeover bid by Glaxo for Wellcome. The trustees hold 39.5 per cent of Wellcome, and have agreed to accept Glaxo's bid terms to the dismay of the target company's directors.
If Glaxo succeeds, industry experts believe that thousands of redundancies among the Wellcome workforce are inevitable. On Wednesday, John Robb, chief executive of the Wellcome company, told a House of Commons science committee that up to 15,000 jobs could be lost through the merger.
The threatening letter, which was revealed in the Independent, purports to be from "soon to be ex-employees of Wellcome." They accuse the trustees of a "sell-out" and say that the "normally passive workforce" had never resorted to force, but added "extreme measures demand extreme reprisals".
One of the recipients of the letter fears for his family and asked not be named. The letter carries a chilling warning that "we shall use the means of chemical, biological, radiological and any other measures as required to effect [sic] the lives of yourself, your families, your employees and their workplaces."