ANIMAL RIGHTS activists who glorify militant acts against economic targets and laboratories are to face prosecution under laws aimed at supporters of terrorism.
The move, confirmed earlier this week by Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, means that extremists convicted under the new legislation could be jailed for seven years and suspects held without charge for up to three months.
Mr Clarke was known to be concerned that previous legislation to combat animal rights extremists has so far resulted in only one prosecution.
In July, a new offence of economic sabotage was introduced under the Serious and Organised Crime Act, after pressure from companies involved in Britain’s £3 billion-a-year life sciences industry, which uses live animals for experimentation.. However, lawyers had questioned how easy the offence would be to prove and Mr Clarke was thought to have had doubts about its effectiveness.
The new terrorism laws were designed primarily to target the so-called preachers of hate who glorify terrorist attacks. However, the Home Secretary told MPs and peers that animal rights supporters who celebrated militant attacks should also face prosecution.
Speaking to the joint Lords and Commons human rights committee, Mr Clarke said: “I certainly think that animal rights terrorism is something that has to be attacked. Those who argue that committing violent acts of terror to promote the cause of animal rights and who justify it by referring to it would be covered by this legislation.”
Mr Clarke made reference to an attack in July on an Oxford University boathouse which caused an estimated £500,000 worth of damage. The university was targeted because animal rights activists want to stop it from building a new animal research laboratory. Work was halted last year when the main contractor, Montpellier, pulled out after being threatened. It has yet to restart, as no contractor will take on the task, fearful of attack by activists.
Brian Cass, the managing director of Huntingdon Life Sciences — Britain’s largest animal research facility, which has suffered a relentless campaign of vandalism and harassment — welcomed the Government’s decision.
Mr Cass, who suffered head injuries when he was attacked by masked animal rights extremists armed with pickaxe handles in 2001, said: “Anything that provides greater opportunities for the police to track down and prosecute people who are carrying out the kind of harassment and intimidation and occasionally violent acts that we’ve seen is very welcome.”