Protesters held after 400 target Huntingdon

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The Independent Online

Animal rights activists targeting Huntingdon Life Sciences yesterday stepped up their campaign with a series of lightning mobile protests against executives and depots of pharmaceutical companies.

Animal rights activists targeting Huntingdon Life Sciences yesterday stepped up their campaign with a series of lightning mobile protests against executives and depots of pharmaceutical companies.

Police reported 81 arrests after van-loads of campaigners launched a series of swift strikes against nine targets across the Home Counties. It was a new tactic in the protest that brought the controversial animal testing centre to within hours of bankruptcy in January.

Activists were held for burglary and conspiracy to commit criminal damage after campaigners broke into secure compounds, smashed windows and unfurled banners in a highly organised operation by about 400 people.

They were split into a white and a yellow team after meeting in a church car park and were issued with a double-page leaflet by Shac, Stop Huntington and Animal Cruelty, which gave detailed instructions and the route to the targets. One instruction read: "A foghorn will sound when it is time to leave one target and move on to another." Organisers with hands-free mobiles and loudhailers organised the protest, with people coming from across the country to take part.

One of the groups broke into the compound at the pharmaceutical company Bayer in Slough, Berkshire. They smashed windows at the depot and retreated before police arrived. A Bayer spokesman said the damage was relatively light and disputed claims by Shac that the company was a customer of HLS.

The activists overwhelmed security at GlaxoSmithKline in Surrey and Berkshire. A spokesman said staff were last night assessing the damage after a supply centre at Slough and a research facility at Weybridge, Surrey were broken into. "GlaxoSmithKline wholeheartedly condemns this violent action organised by Shac which was clearly designed to disrupt work and terrorise employees," he said.

Officers from Thames Valley Police backed up by a helicopter moved in swiftly to break up further protests, stopping vans carrying campaigners in the centre of Slough as they travelled to their second target.

The final two addresses for the "yellow team" were of directors of alleged customers of HLS, but organisers said protesters were met by police.

The highly effective campaign by Shac has prompted the Government to consider changing the law before the general election to combat their methods and to protect targets. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has described many of the protesters as "evil" and has given his backing to companies involved in animal research.

But protesters yesterday angrily dismissed the label. A woman who gave her name as Jan, 46, a graduate from south-west London, said: "Families come along here and bring their kids. This protest is not about thugs and yobs."

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