The government has defended new laws designed to protect staff involved in animal testing after a family breeding guinea pigs for medical research was forced to close its farm due to harassment from extremists.
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, which came into force on 1 July this year, makes it illegal to target any scientist, research facility or company in the supply chain with a campaign of ‘economic damage’, including criminal damage, trespass, blackmail and libel.
However, the laws did not protect the Hall family, who closed Darley Oaks farm in Newchurch, Staffordshire, following a campaign of abuse from extremists. It included digging up and stealing the remains of Chris Hall’s 82-year-old mother-in-law.
A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry admitted the new laws needed to be given time to work, but insisted they conferred tough new powers on the police.
The legislation means courts can take individual acts, which in isolation carry light penalties, and put them in the context of campaigns of violence or harassment, carrying much heavier penalties, he said.
But the Act has only been used against seven people, who were arrested on 3 August in Feltham, Middlesex, on suspicion of intimidating people connected with an animal research organisation.
The individuals – some of whom were from Canada and the US, sources told Personnel Today – have been released on police bail, and will appear in court at the end of September.
Support group Victims of Animal Rights Extremism said if there was not more evidence of “significant action against key players” in the extremist movement in the next two months, it would ask Home Office minister Paul Goggins to explain the lack of progress.
The group said police on the ground needed more training to understand the rights and obligations conferred by this “difficult and complicated law”.
Living in fear…
Staff at animal testing firms who have been victims of extremism speak out. Names have been changed to protect their identities:
“Both my car and my husband’s car were firebombed. They were written off and there was £5,000 worth of damage to the front of the house, including the window of the bedroom where we were sleeping. The neighbours have also been targeted and told their neighbour was an animal abuser or a child molester.”
Meg, a manager in a contract research establishment
“I recently woke up to find two of my cars trashed and the words ‘puppy killers’ sprayed on the side of one of them. They had punctured two tyres. One car was effectively written off. There were slogans sprayed on my house and I have had demonstrations outside it, and my wife and I have received
John, a computer scientist at Huntingdon Life Sciences
“It is very difficult to actually live in your own household. Any time somebody walks past the house, you are looking to check who they are. If cars slow down or stop, you look out of the window to see who they are.”
Pete, a contract researcher