Animal rights campaigner planted university bombs

Lauren Turner,Press Association
Wednesday 16 June 2010 14:54

An animal rights campaigner planted home-made petrol bombs at two Oxford University sites, a court heard today.

Mel Broughton is alleged to have been protesting against the building of an animal testing laboratory in Oxford which was backed by the university.

The 49-year-old man, who spearheaded animal welfare group Speak, was described as a "fanatic" who mounted a "terrorist campaign" against Oxford University.

Two devices placed under a portable cabin at Templeton College, failed to go off. Another, put on the roof of Queen's College's cricket pavilion did ignite, causing a blaze that resulted in nearly £14,000 of damage.

Each bomb shared the unusual hallmark of using firework sparklers as a fuse, with the petrol contained in large water bottles, Oxford Crown Court heard.

Broughton's DNA was found on the base of one of the unexploded devices under the cabin, and also on a pack of sparklers found in an unused water tank at his Northampton home.

Although non-residential buildings were targeted, prosecutor Neil Moore said: "When any such device is lit anywhere, and if they go off, the consequences are very unpredictable."

He told the jury: "Given the large quantity of petrol involved, had these devices at Templeton College ignited, then at the very least it could have resulted in a substantial fire.

"This could have had the potential to light nearby flammable materials, with all the dangers that suggests.

"You can imagine, if the fire had taken hold, the consequent damage that could ensue."

Each device at Templeton College consisted of two bottles, filled with 4.5 litres of petrol, strapped together. The device that exploded at the cricket pavilion contained 12 litres of petrol.

One of the petrol-filled bottles at Templeton College had its cap fitted loosely, allowing vapour to leak out.

Mr Moore added: "It could have caused a violent fireball, rather than the steady spread of fire."

Broughton's connection with animal rights campaigns is well-known, with items including CVs of Oxford University staff and one employee's security pass found at his home after his arrest.

Mr Moore said: "There can be no doubt that he lived and breathed animal rights."

The first device was set at the cricket pavilion on November 18 2006, with the unexploded devices at Templeton College found on February 26 2007, eight days after they were lit.

At the time, Broughton was banned from entering Oxford as a condition of his bail, having been charged with inciting others to commit an offence - a charge he was later cleared of.

In 1998, Broughton admitted conspiracy to cause an explosion after incendiary devices were found in a car, in which he was a passenger, in Northampton.

It was while in jail for that offence that details emerged of an animal testing laboratory planned for Cambridge, and Broughton became involved in the campaign against it.

When that proposal was scrapped, a similar scheme for Oxford was unveiled, which led to Speak being set up. Broughton organised protests and vigils.

Some of Broughton's speeches, in which he accuses the university of "bloody murder" were filmed by police.

He told officers during one event, in January 2006: "Every single day, you're going to have to wonder what's going to happen next. What's going to hit you next."

Details of the attacks Broughton is accused of, and others in Oxford in which he is not implicated, were posted on US website Bite Back shortly after they took place.

In one message, the university was warned: "Nothing you own, rent, or have dealings with is off limits until this project is scrapped."

Broughton, of Semilong Road, Northampton, denies conspiracy to commit arson and an alternative charge of possession of an article with intent to destroy property.

The trial, expected to last two weeks, continues.