Tuesday July 27, 2004
As ministers threaten tougher action against animal rights extremists in the courts, protesters are hitting back in a continuing legal battle with the government.
Today the high court in London heard further argument about the decision by John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, to give the go-ahead to Cambridge University’s proposed primates laboratory.
The university has pulled out of the scheme but Animal Aid and the National Anti-Vivisection Society (Navs) want to establish a point of principle that would prevent it being revived.
Meanwhile the crown prosecution service has disclosed it is setting up a network of specially trained prosecutors to tackle disruption which researchers estimate has cost the UK Â£1bn in lost investment.
A CPS spokesman said the prosecutors shared information about using different laws regarding trespass and public order offences. There is no one law dealing with animal rights protests.
Despite the successful prosecution of protesters against the Huntingdon Life Sciences animal labs, the firm faced severe financial problems and in January Cambridge University withdrew its plans for a primates lab nearby in the face of spiralling security costs.
Protest groups are now targeting Oxford University, which is building an animal facility for medical research, and have forced the withdrawal of the main contractor Montpellier.
Yesterday campaigners argued before Mr Justice Collins that the outcome of the planning application to build a primate research laboratory in the green belt was a “foregone conclusion” and Mr Prescott had decided to grant permission “regardless of the outcome of a public inquiry and expert reports”. The planning permission lasts for five years.
Neil King QC argued that the decision was perverse, unreasonable and unfair, and the case raised questions over the influence of the prime minister and science minister Lord Sainsbury on the public inquiry process.
A public inquiry held over 11 days between November 2002 and January 2003 into the refusal by South Cambridgeshire district council to grant permission ended with the inquiry inspector also recommending refusal.
Mr Prescott then rejected the recommendation and granted permission on the grounds that there was a “national need” for the new research facility. His decision was “perverse” because he had failed to consider all the evidence before the inspector, including proofs of evidence from the animal rights coalition, said Mr King.
He added: “There were genuine alternatives available to non-human primate research. The secretary of state did not engage with those arguments at all.”
The hearing continues today.