Four more scientists hit by animal activists

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Four more scientists at Oxford University have suffered attacks by animal rights activists, trying to draw attention to a fellow activist who is on hunger strike in jail.

The new cases emerged last night after The Independent highlighted an assault on Professor Colin Blakemore, whose car was vandalised at his Oxfordshire home on Saturday.

Yesterday, the Animal Liberation Front phoned The Independent claiming res- ponsibility for the Blakemore attack and admitting a further four attacks on Oxford University scientists on the same night.

Barry Horne, a remand prisoner in Bristol Prison, began his hunger strike on 11 August. He claims the Government has reneged on pre-election promises on animal experimentation.

Robin Webb, spokesman for the ALF, said: "Five torturers all had their vehicles done and some of their homes were targeted. This is to show support for Barry Horne and disgust at the Government and scientists who use animals. The severity of actions can be escalated."

The ALF gave The Independent a list of those targeted on Saturday. One professor, who refused to be named, said: "Paintstripper was thrown over my car, the tyres were slashed and the words 'Murderous scum' were sprayed on my drive. In the past, my children have been approached. We have been warned they were going to hot up their campaign."

The scientists said they had little knowledge of the hunger striker.

Professor John Hopewell, director of research at the Research Institute, Oxford said: "I do not even know the name Barry Horne but my house was vandalised. In the past I've been targeted but this is the first time my house has been damaged. It's a nuisance but it's a hazard of the job these days."

Professor Blakemore, whose family has been the focus of attack for more than 10 years, said: "These people are playing judge, jury and executioner. We will not tolerate terrorism. And to say this is linked with Barry Horne, well - I am not in charge of releasing prisoners, I am not even aware of the charges against him. And I am not responsible for setting up a Royal Commission."

Mr Horne, charged with possessing explosive devices with intent to damage property, staged a 35-day hunger strike earlier this year. He said: "The pledges that were made by Labour were nothing more than empty words - they have no intention of helping the animals."

Mr Webb said: "We have a letter dated December from Elliot Morley, Parliamentary Secretary of the Commons, saying: 'We are proposing a Royal Commission to investigate the claims that animals need to be used and to recommend on alternatives'. What happened to that?" A Home Office spokeswoman said a Royal Commission was unnecessary.

Referring to Mr Morley's comments she said: "December was a long time before the election. Besides, we already have an excellent source of independent advice - the Animal Procedures Committee."

Last year 2.7 million procedures were performed using animals, an increase of 0.3 per cent on 1995. (One procedure is roughly equivalent to one animal.) However, since 1974, when 5.5 million were used, the number has more than halved. Ninety per cent of the animals are used for medical research and development. Cosmetics constitute 0.1 per cent.