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Animal militants set fire to Oxford boathouse
University targeted in arson campaign to halt construction of primate research centre

Sandra Laville
July 21, 2005

Animal rights extremists are claiming responsibility for an arson attack on an Oxford University boathouse which caused an estimated �500,000 worth of damage.

The attack comes after the Guardian revealed last month that activists have unleashed a campaign of arson in a return to tactics of the 80s in response to the government's attempts to clamp down on their activities.

In the latest assault 24 rowing boats were destroyed and much of the interior of the Hertford College boathouse at Oxford University was damaged after arsonists broke into the riverside building and poured about 11 litres (2.42 gallons) of petrol over the property inside.

A source close to the inquiry said an estimated �500,000 worth of damage had been caused. Boats belonging to Hertford and four other colleges, St Catherine's, Mansfield, St Hilda's and Templeton were destroyed.

In a posting yesterday on the Bite Back magazine website, the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the raid.

Oxford University is being targeted in a campaign to stop the building of a new primate laboratory on the university site. Work was halted last year when the main contractors Montpellier pulled out after receiving threats from animal extremists.

It is understood a new contractor has been found but work has yet to restart on the site in South Parks Road.

Oxford University, working with the government, has drawn up plans to reduce the chances that the new builders will be identified and targeted when they start work again.

In its claim on the website the ALF said: "On July 4 an Animal Liberation Front cell travelled to Oxford armed with incendiary devices containing approximately 11 litres of petrol. At approximately 11pm they broke into Oxford University's Hertford College boathouse and deployed the devices among the boats. Before leaving they re-padlocked the door and glued all the locks to avoid the possibility of people entering before the devices ignited.

"The reason for the attack was as follows: Oxford University's holdings now own the contract to build the South Parks lab. As far as the ALF are concerned this means that Oxford University as a whole must accept the consequences. From here on nothing you own, rent or have dealings with is off limits until the project is scrapped. To warn builders and suppliers that they are going to get some, even if their involvement comes to light years later, we will not let you off the hook!"

The posting went on to say that the arson attack was dedicated to a number of animal rights activists who are in prison, including Dave Blenkinsop, who is serving 10 years for attacking the managing director of Huntingdon Life Sciences, the Cambridgeshire-based animal laboratory; Sarah Gisbourne, who was sentenced to six and a half years for conspiracy to cause criminal damage after attacking vehicles linked to HLS; and Keith Mann, a leading member of the ALF who was given a one year jail sentence earlier this month for breaking into a Hampshire laboratory and freeing 600 mice, after the attorney general appealed against the community service order he had been given on the grounds that it was too lenient. Mann recently praised arson as a direct action tactic in the Bite Back magazine in an issue which highlighted the success of firebomb attacks over the last 30 years.

Thames Valley police said they were aware that a claim of responsibility had been made by the ALF and were including that in their inquiry.

"This information will form part of our investigation but we will be keeping an open mind as to who may be responsible," it said.

Speak, the campaign to stop the building of the laboratory, ran an article on its website yesterday celebrating the first anniversary of the moment Montpellier pulled out of the contract.

"Twelve months down the line, the skeleton of the laboratory stands abandoned - a monument to greed and academic curiosity, rather than a monument to real science. But like every monument, slowly and surely, it will disintegrate," it said.

"The question is not whether science is a necessary evil, but whether a science based on the suffering of countless sentient beings can ever be justified. The price for all of us is simply too high."

Mel Broughton, spokesman for the Speak campaign, said the arson was not carried out by anyone within the group.

"It certainly wasn't done on behalf of Speak," he said.

"We are a legal campaign. We don't involve ourselves in illegal actions."

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