The United Kingdom is stepping in to protect an ailing pharmaceutical research firm from attacks and intimidation by animal rights protestors. Last week, the government pledged to strengthen legislation to prevent extremists from protesting outside employees' homes. The government may also outlaw mail threats.
Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), in Cambridgeshire, is Europe's largest center for animal experiments. For several years, its employees have endured violent attacks, firebombing of vehicles, and other abuse from animal rights protesters. Adding to the company's woes, activists recently began to target staff of its financial backers. The tactic seems to have worked: Last week, the Royal Bank of Scotland announced it would be recalling a $32.7 million loan. That placed HLS on the brink of bankruptcy.
In response to Huntingdon's problems, U.K. Home Secretary Jack Straw announced on Wednesday that he would amend the Police and Criminal Justice Bill to stop activists from staging protests outside companies or the homes of employees. In addition, the government is considering a ban on threatening mail. The government also allocated $1.45 million to beef up police security around HLS's compound and to protect scientists and their families.
On Friday, a financial group in the United States bailed out HLS, by agreeing to refinance the company's loans and providing an unspecified amount of new capital. HLS withheld the name of the group, to prevent it from becoming the next target. "This new deal for Huntingdon Life Sciences sends an important message to those who would use violence and intimidation to drive vital research out of the country," Mike O'Brien, a Home Office minister, said in a statement.
Scientists are relieved that the government has stepped in, but many question the effectiveness of the new measures. "These half-measures will do little or nothing to prevent the harassment, intimidation, and violence," says Mark Matfield, executive director of the Research Defense Society, which represents scientists who experiment on animals. Protesters have vowed to continue their campaign.