Police condemn 'urban terrorists' for bomb attacks on workers at animal-testing centre

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The Independent Online

Police are blaming "urban terrorists" for planting fire-bombs on Monday under cars outside the homes of workers at a company that uses animals for scientific research.

Police are blaming "urban terrorists" for planting fire-bombs on Monday under cars outside the homes of workers at a company that uses animals for scientific research.

The latest attacks mark an alarming extension of a three-year campaign by animal rights activists to close the company, Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), in Cambridgeshire.

Chief Superintendent David Auton of Cambridgeshire police told a press conference yesterday that, if the violencecontinued, detectives might soon be launching a murder investigation. "These are not people who are protesting about animals. This is urban terrorism and I would urge anyone who knows anything at all that might help to come forward," he said.

Police said that early on Monday five cars were set on fire with petrol bombs, in Godmanchester near Huntingdon. No one was hurt but two of the cars were destroyed and the others were badly damaged. One family had to be rescued from their house through a back door and a woman, who is seven months pregnant, needed treatment for shock.

Ch Supt Auton said: "It's one thing having to go to work and find people are demonstrating outside your place of work, and having to be shouted at as you drive in. It's a totally different set-up when you are in fear of having your homes, property and families targeted."

Scientists said yesterday that the continuing violence was threatening the future of life-saving medical research in this country.

Bill Fullagar, the president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: "Animal welfare is important, but the fact is that it is currently impossible to develop a new medicine without some research in animals. No computer has yet been developed that can simulate the intricate working of the brain, heart, liver, kidneys etc, let alone their interactions."

Huntingdon Life Sciences has been a target of demonstrations for the past three years after a television documentary featured film, taken secretly, of animal experiments done at the site.

Two employees were subsequently sacked and prosecuted.

Since the programme, employees, former employees and shareholders of the company have been on the receiving end of hate mail, demonstrations and malicious telephone calls. Cambridgeshire police has 42 officers working full-time on the case, which so far has cost the force £1m.

Experts were examining a sixth incendiary device that failed to go off yesterday. Police said the firebombs were "incredibly volatile" and "very dangerous to touch".

Officers are looking at the possibility of links with earlier attacks on cars of HLS employees or shareholders outside their homes in Sawtry, Cambridgeshire, last May.

A spokesman for Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, an animal rights group campaigning for the closure of the plant, said he could "understand the feelings" of those responsible for the violence.

He said: "Ours is a peaceful, non-violent campaign. Causing damage to property is not our chosen method of campaigning. But we can understand the feelings of frustration and anger which may prompt an action like this.

"In our view, causing damage to property is hardly comparable to the extreme violence inflicted upon animals inside Huntingdon Life Sciences every day."