Blair 'inaction fuels animal rights protests'

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Indy Politics

Campaigners accused Tony Blair yesterday of intensifying animal rights protests by failing to keep his promises to clamp down on cruelty in laboratories.

Campaigners accused Tony Blair yesterday of intensifying animal rights protests by failing to keep his promises to clamp down on cruelty in laboratories.

As the Government prepares to introduce powers to stop extremists harassing scientists, animal welfare groups said protests would continue unless the Government addressed concern about animal testing.

Animal welfare organisations claimed that ministers had reneged on a promise to support a Royal Commission on animal testing and to introduce an independent watchdog to inspect laboratories.

Tomorrow the Government will extend anti-stalking laws to give further protection against animal rights extremism. Ben Hayes, the director of public relations for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said that between April and June 2004 there were 27 reported incidents of damage to personal property, two instances of damage to public property, 20 cases of damage to companies and four hoax fire bomb packages.

Mr Hayes said: "A lot of the damage can't be quantified as it often involves company phone systems and websites being blocked." He said that vital research into cancer, Aids and asthma was being jeopardised by extremist activity.

But animal welfare groups claimed that introducing new laws would do nothing to diffuse strong feelings in the country about testing on animals. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, which opposes unlawful protest, said it had seen a leap in membership and inquiries over recent weeks.

"You don't have to endorse the tactics of certain campaigners to understand that what drives them is complete disillusionment with this Government. In the 1997 election, Labour bandied around a New Labour New Life for Animals document which promised to do more to protect lab animals. But they have done nothing," said Wendy Higgins, the campaigns director.

The BUAV and anti-animal testing group Uncaged accused the Prime Minister of breaking a promise made four years ago in Parliament to introduce an independent element into the investigation process.

In November 2000 Mike O'Brien, the Home Office minister responsible for animal testing, told the House of Commons he would set up an "independent scrutiny team" which would oversee Home Office investigations and report directly to the Home Secretary.

Yesterday, the Home Office said it did not want to stop animal welfare campaigners engaging in peaceful protest but was determined to crack down on the extremists.

Gill Samuels, the director of science policy for Pfizer Europe, said last night that protests "restrict our ability to argue for further investment [for research] in the UK". Her comments followed those by Glaxo Smith Kline boss Jean-Pierre Garnier, who said his company was spending tens of millions on protecting staff and buildings from militants - money that could be spent on research.

Victims are unwilling to identify themselves but some are willing to describe the intimidation as long as their name is not revealed. John, 47, a company director of a small chemical firm mistakenly linked by animals rights activists to Huntingdon Life Science, first received threatening and obscene e-mails at his office. Then his family received death threats.

"They would say that our lives would become a misery and that they would not be happy until they saw our faces smashed in our coffins," he said. The threats escalated after the ALF wrote to tell him he had become a priority target.

Fireworks were let off over his house, two of his cars were sprayed with graffiti and paint was thrown on his driveway. Up to 300 letters were sent to neighbours falsely claiming he was a convicted paedophile.

'SOMEONE CALLED UP TELLING ME I WAS HAVING A BOMB DELIVERED BY TAXI'

Anne was eight months pregnant when she became a target of a hate campaign by local animal activists.

The harassment began when she took maternity leave from her job as a community relations officer for a leading British pharmaceutical company.

Talking for the first time about her frightening ordeal, she said: "I went away with my husband to celebrate my maternity leave. We were rung by the police who said our house and garden had been trashed with red paint and acid. All the windows were damaged with etching acid and all the plants in the garden were destroyed."

The campaign escalated. She received repeated death threats on the phone and obscene mail including sex toys. Finally there was an elaborate bomb hoax, after which the couple were moved to a safe house.

"There would be someone ringing up telling my husband they were going to 'Kill Anne'. But it was not until the bomb hoax that I began to feel really scared," Anne, not her real name, recalled yesterday.

"I was weeks away from having my first baby and someone called up telling me I was having a bomb delivered to me by taxi. My husband was out and just as I put the phone down, a taxi pulled up and the driver had a parcel for me, which someone had said I'd left behind while shopping.

"I was shouting for him to leave the parcel and just get away from the car. When the police came, I saw they were standing in a row between me and the package. It was then I realised that people were risking their lives to protect me."

Around 200 neighbours on her street were evacuated from their homes, after which she was given a special police protection number.

Two weeks before the baby was due, she was told to change her car so she could not be identified and was moved to accommodation miles away from where she lived.

She suffered post-natal depression when her daughter was born. "The police wanted me to have my baby in a different hospital and to have a officer present outside the labour room but I didn't want that. It was a very dramatic part of my life - I was house hunting, I had flu from the stress, I was 39 weeks pregnant and the police were trying to find us somewhere safe to live. I was incredibly angry at the threat posed to my baby."

One of the most sinister aspects of the campaign was the unpredictability of the next 'hit'. "It was like standing in the middle of a football pitch knowing that behind the seats were snipers and there was nowhere to hide. Because they were acting illegally - they wore masks, came in the night and disguised their voices - we were just waiting for the next hit."

One of her assailants was later brought to trial and jailed for three years for criminal damage and sending a hoax bomb.

During the case, it was discovered that photographs of Anne had been taken near her home. "The people who were doing it had photographed me with a telephoto lens," she said.

Now aged 42, Anne still works in the pharmaceutical industry. Her family continues to live a secretive lifestyle. They have been given a non-local phone line and panic alarms and have regular security reviews. She has been warned to be vigilant when receiving parcels and she now opens large post in front of a police officer.

"I had not intended to stay in the industry but I couldn't walk away from it," she said. "My father died of cancer at the age of 52, my best friend died of breast cancer at 37 and my husband has had cancer so I know how important it is to find treatment for diseases."

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