Jul 30, 2012 1:42 PM GMT
Medical research to develop new drugs is put at risk as workers quit after being attacked and smeared as paedophiles
The twin gates, topped with razor wire and spikes, would do justice to a prison. The outer gate opens, you drive in and your car is studied by CCTV cameras. Then the second gate slides aside and you pass into the main site. Coils of barbed wire, piled on top of high metal fences, mark its perimeter. It is striking, formidable security but not unexpected – for this is Harlan Laboratories in Blackthorn, Oxfordshire, home to 52,000 rats and mice destined for use in medical experiments and the target of a sustained campaign of intimidation by animal activists.
Last week campaigner Luke Steele was sentenced to 18 months in jail for harassing staff at Harlan's laboratories. A second activist, Jonathan White, was given a seven-month sentence, suspended for 18 months. The pair, both aged 22, were members of a small group who terrorised staff at Harlan's three UK sites last year, using hailers to chant "shame on you", "blood on your hands" and "puppy killers" at employees queuing up in their cars to enter or leave their workplaces. They also claimed that animals in the centres were subject to "horrific neglect".
One female Harlan worker told the Observer: "When you arrived in the morning, you would have to queue for up to five minutes to get through the gates. Their loudhailers were deafening. They would scream at you that you were a puppy killer and would bang on your car. It was horrible. I was left shaking for hours afterwards."
A male colleague was equally affected: "It is part of their methodology to equate animal work with paedophilia. If they find out your name, you will appear on their website as a paedophile. It is disgusting." Another Harlan worker found out that his neighbours had all been sent notes claiming that he was a rapist.
Such intimidation has become a frequent weapon for activists. Harlan's workers have remained resolute, but elsewhere the effect on the breeding of laboratory animals in the UK has been badly affected. In 1981 there were 34 companies breeding laboratory animals. Today there are just three because of activists' intimidation of staff and of companies supplying services and products to laboratories.
"Part of the overall reduction in company numbers has involved consolidation of businesses, but there is no doubt that intimidation has led to the closure of many other companies," says Andy Cunningham, a Harlan manager. "Yet EU legislation requires us to use more and more animals for toxicity testing today, while scientists are making more and more key discoveries that require animals for research. We have to have animals if we want to develop new drugs for Alzheimer's and heart disease and to test products used by the public."