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- 19 December 2013 12:36 pm , Vol. 342 , #6165
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Animal Rights Crackdown in U.K.
1 May 2007 (All day)
In a series of dawn raids today, British police arrested 30 people in what officers say may be the largest operation against animal rights extremists. Police raided 29 properties across the U.K., while officers in Belgium and the Netherlands targeted three more. According to press reports, the people arrested are being held on suspicion of burglary, conspiracy to commit blackmail, arson, and vandalism. Police said one of extremists' targets was Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) near Cambridge, Europe's largest contract medical testing center.
Animal rights activists are well-organized in the U.K. and do much legal campaigning. But a few resort to illegal methods, including threats of violence, vandalism of homes and businesses, letter bombs, and firebombs. In the mid 1990s, extremists switched targets from laboratories and businesses themselves to their employees and the companies that supply them. Police concerns about security contributed to the University of Cambridge's 2004 decision to abandon plans for a primate research lab (ScienceNOW, 3 August 2004). More recently, extremists have focused their attention on an animal research lab being built by the University of Oxford. Threats and intimidation directed at construction companies and suppliers have led to numerous delays in the project.
The U.K. government has strengthened legislation against extremists who resort to violent or threatening methods (Science, 4 February 2005, p. 659) and has urged police to take a tougher line. This week's arrests are perhaps the first signs of that approach. Few scientists who use animals will comment publicly for fear of drawing attacks, but medical researcher Chris Higgins of Durham University in the U.K. says, "This is very good news indeed for medical research and healthcare. These extremists are threatening dedicated researchers going about their daily work, and the sooner they are stopped, the better for the country as a whole."
Police have released three of the people arrested and had yet to file charges against the rest, as ScienceNOW went to press.