ANIMAL RIGHTS activists have begun targeting private investors for the first time in their campaign of intimidation against the medical testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS).
The drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which uses HLS to carry out toxicology tests on animals, was inundated with calls from small shareholders earlier this week, all of who had received threatening letters from a previously unheard-of animal rights group.
The company said it had alerted the police. Previously two GSK executives, Simon Bicknell and Sir Ian Prosser, became targets when letters were sent to their neighbours accusing them of being rapists and the house of one was daubed with offensive graffiti.
GSK said it received about 100 calls from individual investors on Monday morning alone, suggesting a "significant number" are being targeted. GSK has 170,000 private shareholders who are listed on the group's share registry. Institutional investors are not being targeted at present.
The animal rights group, which calls itself Campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences, threatened to publicise shareholders' personal details on the Internet unless they sold their holdings in GSK. The letter ends with the words: "The choice is yours."
GSK responded by "utterly condemning" the letter campaign. It posted information on its website advising small shareholders who wish to protect their privacy to transfer their shares into GSK's corporate nominee service, which provides anonymity for the holder of the stock.
Campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences said it was holding GSK accountable to its promise not to use HLS again following the infamous 1998 television documentary ‘Countryside Undercover’ showing workers punching beagle puppies. "The only way to hold GlaxoSmithKline to its promise is to target its financial vulnerability. We are therefore giving you this opportunity to sell your shares in GSK. Over the next two weeks every shareholder of GSK will be receiving this letter. If you have any doubts over the effectiveness of this action then keep a close eye on the GSK share price and watch it plummet," the letter warned.
The group reminded investors that this was a tactic used against shareholders in HLS, which saw its share price nosedive and ended up being delisted from the London Stock Exchange and forced to move its headquarters to the US. Last October the New York Stock Exchange blocked an attempt to re-list HLS's parent. Intimidation was also successfully used against Montpellier, the building contractor employed to build an animal-testing laboratory for Oxford University. The company pulled out of the project after its shares plummeted, leading to a delay of 18 months.
GSK stressed that it did not use HLS's services while it was under investigation after the damning television documentary. GSK started using HLS again only after it put in new management and was cleared by the Home Office on animal welfare standards. The group uses HLS for toxicology testing of new chemical compounds before they are tested on humans.
As reported previously, in March a US court convicted another animal rights group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty US, and six of its members of using violence and terror in their campaign against HLS. The British pharmaceuticals industry has been trying to rally UK businesses behind a call to "banish animal rights extremists to the margins of society".