Calls for new laws to fight animal rights terror are rejected

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Scientists were warned last night there would be no fresh legislation to tackle animal rights extremists as a second contractor pulled out of a troubled project to build a biomedical research centre at Oxford University.

Scientists were warned last night there would be no fresh legislation to tackle animal rights extremists as a second contractor pulled out of a troubled project to build a biomedical research centre at Oxford University.

The developments will spread further alarm among researchers who use animals in the quest for cures to conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and leukaemia.

On Monday it was announced that Montpellier plc, the leading contractor in the Oxford project, was terminating its links with the university in the wake of an illegal campaign against it. Yesterday it emerged that RMC Group, which has been supplying concrete to the £18m site since March, was also pulling out of the project.

Home Office sources, however, said that lobbying from the scientific community for "legislation curbing extremists" would be unsuccessful. The decision comes despite the personal backing of Tony Blair for animal research and the collapse of the planned primate research laboratory at Cambridge after a direct action campaign.

The Government is expected to say that current laws offer scientists protection, although they could toughen penalties against extremists.

In a terse statement, the RMC Group said of the Oxford project: "RMC's obligations have come to an end."

Last month members of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) destroyed three lorries using incendiary devices at RMC's headquarters at Thorpe, Sur-rey. Fifty firefighters took three hours to extinguish the blaze.

A message on the ALF website said: "This attack is a warning to RMC that collaboration in animal torture at Oxford or anywhere else will not be tolerated, and a further warning to all involved in building the Oxford laboratory to expect similar ruthless treatment."

Construction of the site in Oxford was temporarily halted yesterday. Shares in Montpellier plc continued to recover, finishing 10 per cent up after slumping to a four-year low after Monday's announcement that its subsidiary, Walter Lilly, and all its other arms were quitting Oxford.

Yesterday, the university said it was already in talks with another contractor, although a spokeswoman declined to identify the name of the new builder.

The centre is due to be completed in 2005 and will house all 130 ongoing animal research projects at the South Parks Road site. The university claims 98 per cent of these involve rats and mice, while only a handful use primates.

Speak, the organisation which is leading a legal campaign against the laboratory, described Montpellier's decision as "a pivotal moment ... to stop the expansion of animal abuse at Oxford". A "national" demonstration in Oxford on Saturday will go ahead, the group said.

Meanwhile, a businessman linked to Montpellier revealed yesterday how he was forced to act after extremists threatened to make false allegations to his neighbours claiming that he had a history of sexual offence convictions.

The construction company director wrote a pre-emptive open letter to his local community in Gloucester refuting the claims which followed a campaign of vandalism and intimidation against him.

Last week the man, who wishes to remain anonymous, received a note headed: "A serious warning from Animal Rights Activists."

It said: "If the company does not stop building the animal laboratory at Oxford within one week a letter about you will mailed to hundreds of your neighbours. This letter will make several allegations about your personal life. It will also contain a forged criminal record showing a string of sexual offences committed by yourself throughout your adult life."

It continued: "You reap what you sow and there will be permanent concequences [sic] for you personally if this project continues with the involvement of your company. Think long and hard about this ... this really is a choice over the future life of yourself and your family."

In his two-page typed response, distributed to more than 100 neighbours, he described how his house and pavement have been daubed with red paint and how he and his wife have received "late night telephone calls and anonymous threatening letters".

"I didn't want them to get in first and then have a vigilante group outside my house. I am absolutely distraught and my wife is very upset," he said.