Animal rights activists get day in court

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The Independent Online

Animal rights activists and laboratory researchers are to battle it out in the High Court after a senior judge decided yesterday that the issues raised by the campaigners were of such importance that they demanded a public hearing.

Animal rights activists and laboratory researchers are to battle it out in the High Court after a senior judge decided yesterday that the issues raised by the campaigners were of such importance that they demanded a public hearing.

Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) failed to gain a permanent anti-harassment injunction to protect its employees from a "ruthless and menacing campaign" by protesters.

Instead, Mr Justice Mackay ruled that the activists, who insist there is no evidence to connect them with criminal activity, had a right to defend themselves against accusations that they orchestrated a terror campaign against HLS.

While conceding that Britain's biggest testing laboratory had a "formidable case", the judge said the defendants - Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac), and three individual protesters - had a right to their "day in court".

A High Court trial will now go ahead after Mr Justice Mackay refused to "strike out" the protesters' defence and issue a permanent injunction.

But permanent injunctions were granted against two other groups - London Animal Action and the Animal Liberation Front - as well as six named individuals, who did not contest the case.

Both sides hailed the decision as a victory yesterday.

Greg Avery, a Shac spokesman and one of the named individuals, said yesterday: "It is brilliant news. As far as we are concerned only through a full trial will you draw out the real issues and the activities of Huntingdon Life Sciences will be seen in the full glare of worldwide publicity."

A spokesman for the company insisted that the outcome was expected and it was pleased with the injunctions granted against those who did not contest the matter.

He added that HLS was confident of a successful outcome in the trial, adding: "We don't want to stop peaceful protest. This is to stop abusive, intimidatory practices and violence."

More than 1,000 employees of the company's Suffolk and Cambridgeshire research centres said during the two-day hearing that they had suffered at the hands of animal rights campaigners.

"The implications go beyond the world of medical research but strike to the foundation of society, namely the rule of law itself," Mr Justice Mackay said.