Animal rights man guilty over petrol bombs

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The Independent Online

An animal rights activist who planted petrol bombs at Oxford University is starting a prison sentence today after being found guilty at a retrial.

Mel Broughton, 49, was protesting about plans to build an animal research laboratory in Oxford, backed by the university, when he made the devices out of water bottles and sparklers.



One of them, placed on the roof of Queen's College cricket pavilion in November 2006, ignited and caused nearly £14,000 damage to the building.



Two other petrol bombs were hidden under a portable cabin at Templeton College the following February, but failed to go off.



Broughton, of Semilong Road, Northampton, was originally convicted of conspiracy to commit arson by a jury in February 2009, but successfully appealed against the conviction in February this year.



The Court of Appeal ordered a retrial, which began at Oxford Crown Court on June 16. It took the jury five hours and 25 minutes to return with their unanimous guilty verdict.



Judge Patrick Eccles QC passed a 10-year sentence, to be reduced by the two and a half years Broughton has already spent in custody.



He said he had no further comment on the case, but had told Broughton at his original conviction: "What is not acceptable or permissible in a democratic society is for you to harass, bully and intimidate those that engage in lawful research involving animals.



"The firebombs were part of a ruthless conspiracy to instil fear in all those connected to the laboratory."



Broughton, who spearheaded animal welfare group Speak, was arrested in connection with the attacks in December 2007 after his DNA was found on the base of one of the unexploded devices.



A pack of sparklers was found hidden in an unused water tank by detectives searching his home. They also discovered documents relating to Oxford University and its employees.



Each device at Templeton College consisted of two bottles, filled with 4.5 litres of petrol, strapped together. The device that exploded at the cricket pavilion contained 12 litres of petrol.



Although non-residential buildings at the university were targeted, prosecutor Neil Moore told the trial the consequences of such devices igniting were "very unpredictable".



He said: "Given the large quantity of petrol involved, had these devices at Templeton College ignited, then at the very least it could have resulted in a substantial fire."



During the trial Broughton insisted he was not involved in illegal protests.



Speaking outside court, Denis Burke, a complex casework unit lawyer at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "Mel Broughton has always claimed that he was only a peaceful protester.



"His conviction today demonstrates that, in fact, he was willing to commit criminal offences against legitimate businesses and institutions for the furtherance of his cause.



"No matter what your personal convictions are, putting property and lives at risk through the use of incendiary devices can never be justified."



Detective Inspector Kevin McGuire of Thames Valley Police said: "The evidence showed the jury that Broughton's interest in the animal rights cause went further than that of a legitimate protester.



"He has been proven to be someone who believes direct action, in the form of planting explosives and setting fires, is acceptable.



"By doing so, he has shown that he is willing to risk the lives of other people for his cause."



A University of Oxford spokesman said: "The university has always accepted the rights of protesters to voice their objections within the law.



"However, we will continue to work with all relevant authorities to protect staff and students from criminal activity of any kind."