Animal rights activists halt building of laboratory

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Animal rights protesters yesterday claimed victory after Montpellier, the construction group, pulled out of its contract to build a controversial vivisection laboratory at Oxford University.

The company's subsidiary, Walter Lilly, is abandoning the project after a campaign of pressure from activists, including hoax letters to shareholders urging them to sell out, which has pushed shares down to their lowest level in four years.

Montpellier said in a statement: "The board of Montpellier and the University of Oxford have agreed by mutual consent to conclude ... the contract between the University and Walter Lilly for the construction of the biomedical research facility in South Parks Road."

The university last night said it had made alternative plans, which it would not be making public, and building work would continue. But Speak, the group which is co-ordinating opposition to the laboratory, promised to root out the names of companies involved in the work. Robert Cogswell, a spokesman for the group, said: "We are delighted that Montpellier has made an ethical decision based on the information we provided to them about what is to take place in the labs, rather than one based on profit."

Speak is backing a legal campaign of protest, which included a 48-hour hunger strike by an 85-year-old anti-vivisectionist last week, and is organising a march through Oxford this Saturday.