Cambridge 'abuse' of monkeys prompts legal review

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The Independent Online

Anti-vivisection campaigners have won the right to challenge the legality of animal experiments at Cambridge University after evidence emerged that scientists ignored safeguards that protected laboratory monkeys.

Anti-vivisection campaigners have won the right to challenge the legality of animal experiments at Cambridge University after evidence emerged that scientists ignored safeguards that protected laboratory monkeys.

The High Court ruling came after an undercover operation by an animal rights group managed to infiltrate a laboratory where experiments were being done to help develop treatments for Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases. During the investigation a campaigner working as a technician discovered monkeys that had had the tops of their heads sawn off to help induce strokes in their brains. Laboratory staff often finished work at 5pm, leaving some paralysed monkeys unattended for up to 15 hours, while others were found dead in the morning or kept in very poor conditions.

Excerpts from Cambridge University internal papers give laboratory technicians and scientists advice on how to deal with problems during and after experiments.

The papers described how some monkeys scream in misery, fear and anger during experiments. They describe occasions when primates are "screaming, trying to get out of the box, defecating", and state: "This is an angry animal."

Scientists and technicians are advised in the documents to "punish" the bad habits of the monkeys, saying that these bad habits include the normal act of self-grooming.

Richard Drabble QC, for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), told the High Court at a hearing in February that the documents found by the campaigners contradicted the general perception that animals were well cared for and protected under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

The discovery of the documents prompted Jon Richmond, who was chief inspector of animals, to review the Cambridge licences. But he rejected BUAV claims that the project licences should not have been granted, or that stricter "severity limits" should have been enforced to ensure that the monkeys suffered the least amount of pain and suffering.

Mr Justice Burnton said yesterday it was arguable that the chief inspector may have erred when he concluded that the severity limits had been correctly applied. But the issue before the court was whether the Home Secretary acted irrationally and unlawfully when he accepted the chief inspector's conclusions. Rejecting that challenge, the judge said it was not easy for a claimant to show a perverse decision had been made.

But the judge gave the BUAV permission to seek a declaration that the Home Secretary was under a duty to weigh the likely death of an animal against the benefit of a research programme when considering whether a licence for experiments should be granted.

The Home Secretary had accepted that the "likely suffering" of any animal was an adverse effect to be taken into consideration, but not death of itself, absent of any suffering.

The High Court will also be asked at the full application for judicial review to investigate rules and guidance on restricting food and water for laboratory animals.

Animal tests and the law

* A licence must be granted by the Home Office before medical experiments are performed on animals.

* Research is governed primarily by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 but there are EU directives covering the testing and treatment of animals.

* Before issuing licences, the Government evaluates the level of suffering against the benefit to humans.

* Research with great apes was banned in 1998.

The use of primates is the most controversial area of animal testing policy.