Prescott is sued over monkey laboratory

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Animal rights activists are taking John Prescott to the High Court over a decision to allow the University of Cambridge to build a £33m monkey experimentation centre.

Animal Aid and the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) have lodged papers at the High Court against Mr Prescott's decision to overrule a planning inspector's rejection of plans for the massive laboratories at Girton on the outskirts of Cambridge.

They claim Mr Prescott, who has overall responsibility for planning, made a decision which was "perverse, unreasonable and unfair" by giving approval to the centre, which will look at the causes of diseases including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

The groups, which expect their case to be heard in the spring, will argue that his decision was a "foregone conclusion" because Tony Blair had made public statements in support of the plan before the inquiry.

They also say Lord Sainsbury, the Department of Trade and Industry minister, influenced the decision by "erroneously claiming" that a House of Lords select committee inquiry on animal experimentation had supported the proposal. "The Deputy Prime Minister's decision was based on little fact and flawed information," the groups said in a joint statement yesterday.

The local planning authority, South Cambridgeshire District Council, refused permission for the Girton laboratory, which would be on green belt land, in February 2002, after police raised fears about public safety at the site.

A public inquiry by Stuart Nixon, a planning inspector, between November 2002 and January 2003 upheld the council's opposition, but Mr Prescott rejected Mr Nixon's recommendation in November.

Mr Prescott said that he considered it strongly in the national interest that the laboratory should be developed.

Norna Hughes, a solicitor for Animal Aid and the NAVS said: "[My clients] believe the Government is not prepared to give anti-vivisectionists a fair hearing because to do so might be interpreted as giving in to the animal activists."