Animal rights picketing to be criminalised

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New laws making the presence of animal rights protesters outside people's homes an arrestable offence are expected to be announced by the government this week, as it looks to crack down on militants terrorising company bosses.

New laws making the presence of animal rights protesters outside people's homes an arrestable offence are expected to be announced by the government this week, as it looks to crack down on militants terrorising company bosses.

The Home Office confirmed last night an announcement would be made on Friday about "strengthening police powers" to protect those targeted by protesters and their families.

Speculation yesterday suggested Home Secretary was to introduce a specific criminal offence of protesting outside someone's home in an intimidating way and to make it an arrestable offence to return to someone's home after being found guilty of aggressive behaviour. There were also suggestions last night that there could be changes to anti-stalking legislation so protesters could be targeted.

The Home Office is leading a cross-departmental strategy to tackle animal rights militants, who have cost the economy a reported £1bn in lost investment. The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, is using 43 specialist prosecutors, one for each criminal justice area in England and Wales, to try to prevent people working in animal research being terrorised at home.

The clampdown comes as the chief executive of Britain's biggest pharmaceutical company Glaxo Smith Kline, Jean-Pierre Garnier, condemned activists as "despicable cowards" and said his company was spending tens of millions of pounds on protecting staff and buildings from militants.

"This is money that could be spent on research and development on new drugs," Mr Garnier told The Daily Telegraph. "Britain has to do more with its police and the judicial system because we are being terrorised... There is one issue that exists only in the UK. Nowhere else has a comparative effect from extreme actions by animal rights activists."

The Labour MP who chairs the Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, Ian Gibson, said yesterday he had refused to go on BBC2's Newsnight on Monday to talk about reports of a crackdown because he and his wife feared being targeted. Mr Gibson, the MP for Norwich North and a scientist before he was elected, said violence by animal rights extremists was terrorism and the Home Office should treat it as seriously as other such threats.

Mr Gibson, told BBC Radio 4 about the Newsnight offer: "I spoke to my wife and said, 'No way'. We've been through this before; we've had to look under our car, we live in fear. I don't think people deserve to live like that just because they have strong beliefs one way or the other."

Mr Gibson spoke of people being "beaten over the heads with baseball bats, loud noises outside their houses and so on. I think they've not taken it seriously because it's not happening to them. If it happened to ministers it wouldn't be tolerated for one minute".

Aisling Burnand, the chief executive of the BioIndustry Association, said over the past three months there had been 46 reported incidents of damage to property, 54 visits to employees' homes and 43 vehicles damaged. "No one's saying that there shouldn't be legitimate protest but what we are seeing goes way beyond that."

Mel Broughton, a spokesman for the animal rights group Speak, called the reported crackdown "a knee-jerk reaction", adding: "There are already a plethora of public order laws to deal with protests by animal rights campaigners and we feel this is not so much to do with clamping down on protest but stifling the debate altogether."

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