Animal Protection > Worldwide Actions > United Kingdom
Oxford Univ. loses key case against SPEAK co-founders
Oxford University's attempts to jail SPEAK founders Robert Cogswell and Mel Broughton have ended in the defeat of the university.
Mr. Justice King dismissed the case against Robert Cogswell in the High Court on 1st February. Earlier on in the day Oxford University had dropped the contempt of court proceedings against Mel Broughton, citing the fact that there was no evidence against him.
The charges stemmed from an article posted on the SPEAK website on 16th October 2006 which highlighted who SPEAK believe to be the company responsible for building a new animal testing lab at Oxford University. The university's solicitors claimed SPEAK had broken the terms set forth in the injunction that prohibit the naming of 'protected' persons. The name of the contractor was also sent out in an email alert to more than 700 subscribers. Because of this, the university demanded and was granted an order by the High Court forcing Mr Cogswell and Mr Broughton to hand over the list of subscribers, even despite the fact that the name of the builder had also been published on numerous other websites, including the Guardian news site and the Oxford Mail.
As the list was not in the control of Mr Cogswell or Mr Broughton, they were unable to produce it in the alloted time and university solicitors Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden then sought to imprison them both on contempt of court charges.
The university's legal team had been pursuing the pair for 3 months and had incurred in the region of �44,000-worth of costs. It is believed that the costs involved with the building of the lab on South Parks road, including any related legal matters are financed by public money which has been pledged by the government.
The contempt proceeding against the SPEAK founders was a crucial case to win. If Oxford University had won, a dangerous precedent would have been set. Oxford University had wanted two people imprisoned not for what they had done but for what they had said, and despite the fact that they had broken no laws. That's just how desperate the university has become to prove they haven't lost the plot or the argument.
SPEAK are an organisation that has been peacefully campaigning against the development of the new lab which has been under construction since March 2004. Since November 2004, SPEAK and named individuals have had an injunction order against them. This order has been updated on a couple of occasions since 2004 whenever SPEAK have introduced a new dimension into the campaign.
The failed contempt proceedings brought against the SPEAK founders and the continuing injunctions intended to silence the campaign are seen by many both inside and outside the movement as a desperate attempts to both hinder the campaign by tying it up in fighting legal actions and to muzzle a campaign that has turned out to be a thorn in the side of the university. Among numerous other scandals, SPEAK have exposed the university's links with large pharmacuetical companies such as Merck, manufacturer of the drug Vioxx.
Oxford University were involved in trials of the drug in 2000. It is estimated to have killed in the region of 2000 who were given the drug by Oxford University professors at a time when reports from the US were already flagging up permanent and, in many cases fatal side effects which included heart failure. The Vioxx recall has recently been named the biggest and most expensive drug recall in history.
While the university have repeatedly accused SPEAK campaigners of conducting a campaign of intimidation and harassment that encourages terrorist activity, no evidence has ever been produced in the courts linking the campaign to illegal activity. Interestingly enough, however, the university has recently been alleged to have used some of the money pledged by the government to pay for the services of notorious 'security specialists' Aegis, whose founder, Col. Tim Spicer, has been implicated in numerous international scandals including the breaking of international arms trafficking bans in West Africa and, more recently, the shooting of innocent Iraqi civilians for sport while working under contract for the US government (for further information on this, click here).
In an article on the SPEAK website the group state that: "We have a message for Oxford University: we're here to stay. We're here to dog their every step. If they try to stop us, we'll come back stronger and more determined. The more they want to stop us from telling the truth, the more we'll make sure the truth gets out. We have long known that these people can't be reasoned with. What we are here to ensure is that they are made to be held accountable for what they do, and that they are stopped from doing it."
Mr Cogswell commented: "Oxford University have claimed repeatedly to be a "bastion of free speech", yet their persistent attempts to silence protest and criticism from their anti-vivisection opponents have proved they are nothing of the sort. They have claimed that SPEAK has connections with terrorism, and that the campaign has adopted intimidatory tactics against them. The plain truth is manifestly different; our campaign has been conducted openly and within legal parameters from the outset and anyone who views the website can clearly see this to be the case. Yet such is the nature of the 'legal' system under Labour that we can never be sure when we wake in the morning, whether what was legal yesterday or even 5 minutes ago, is legal any longer."
Mr Cogswell added "it is important that everyone who believes in true democracy resist the unscrupulous tactics of individuals and organisations in powerful and privileged positions. If absolute power and greed go unchallenged, the noose will get tighter and tighter until none of us will be able to speak out for what we believe. Mel and I were prepared to go to prison in order to stand up for those principles."