|LONDON - Scientists say vital medical research could be jeopardised by animal rights militants who forced a construction firm to pull out of building a new laboratory at Oxford University.|
The university said yesterday the Montpellier Group had abandoned an 18 million pound project to construct its new animal research lab, which will work on treatments for diseases such as leukaemia and cancer.
It was the second such withdrawal this year. In January, plans for a primate research laboratory in Cambridge were scrapped after violent protests.
Montpellier gave no reason for its decision, merely confirming in a statement that its contract with the university had been cancelled by mutual agreement.
However Speak, the rights group behind a campaign to stop the lab going ahead, hailed the decision as a victory.
\"Montpellier and all those involved in the building of this animal abuse centre have to come to realise that a quick profit at the expense of the destruction of thousands of sentient beings is something that comes with a price,\" the group said on its Web site.
Dr Mark Matfield, of the Research Defence Society, which represents medical researchers who use animals in tests, said it was vital the activists were not successful.
\"This is blackmail,\" he told Reuters. \"It\'s incredibly important that Oxford gets this facility built and operating and that they (the activists) don\'t win this one.
\"It would be extremely bad news for all medical research at the university.\"
Professor Tipu Aziz, a consultant neurosurgeon at the university said he believed \"animal rights terrorism\" was \"the most immediate threat to the British population\".
\"Until animal rights extremists are treated as terrorists they will hold hostage the future of British public health,\" he told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
The militants have shown they are prepared to use violence.
For years, scientists at the country\'s oldest drug-testing firm Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) have suffered physical, verbal and psychological abuse because of their work. In 2001 police blamed extremists after an HLS top executive was attacked by three bat-wielding assailants.
Matfield said new laws were needed to tackle the issue.
\"It\'s a specific problem and it\'s not going to go away until there are laws to make it an offence to carry out campaigns like this,\" he added.
Story by Michael Holden
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE