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A decision handed down by a government body responsible for carrying out independent investigations into complaints about UK government departments and their agencies has confirmed that the British government are determined to defend the interests of the vivisection industry no matter how unethical those interests may be.

Six years ago, on the 21st September 2000, Uncaged, the anti vivisection campaigning group based in Sheffield, North East England published leaked documents, which the group named the 'Diaries of Despair'. The documents detailed the horrors involved in pig-to-primate organ transplant experiments.

Within days of Uncaged going public with the leaked documents, Imutran the company responsible for conducting the transplant experiments and a world leader in research aimed at adapting pig organs for human transplants announced it was shutting down its UK operations and moving to the US. Imutran are subsidiary of the multinational drug firm Novartis Pharma AG.

However, far from the story ending there, it was just the beginning of a long and hard fought campaign by Uncaged to both expose the truth and protect themselves from the might of Imutran as the company sought to bankrupt them. As we have witnessed with both with Huntingdo Life Sciences and Oxford University, a vigorous campaign was mounted by the British Government in order to protect a biotech company. The Home Office issued a report on the Imutran affair that in effect was just a whitewash as it sought to protect a company that are part of an industry the Labour Government are desperate to encourage to do business in the UK.

The leaked documents gave an important insight into the usually closed world of the vivisection industry, exposing the fact that between 1994 and 2000, hundreds of higher primates were subjected to 'xenotransplantation' experiments. And in what can only be described as a scene from Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, hearts and kidneys from genetically engineered piglets were transplanted into the necks, abdomens and chests of monkeys and baboons that had been captured from the wild.

The primates were then injected with and force-fed massive doses of immune-suppressing drugs in a vain attempt to prevent the alien organs from being rejected. These experiments took place at the controversial Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratories (HLS).

Within a week of Uncaged publishing the documents detailing the types of experiments being conducted at HLS, Imutran had gained a temporary injunction banning publication of the 'Diaries of Despair', and as is so often the case when it comes to the fight for animal rights a 'David and Goliath' struggle ensued as the company attempted to keep the information out of the public domain.

Imutran argued that Uncaged had used and disclosed confidential information and had infringed the copyright in those documents. At no time did Imutran deny the documents were false or even that they misrepresented the truth. The injunction was founded exclusively on breach of confidentiality and copyright. Imutran and Novartis Pharma (who joined the action in April 2001) were seeking a permanent injunction preventing publication of the documents, together with costs and damages from the defendants, which were estimated to be in the region of £500,000.

It was now clear that Imutran didn't just want to hide evidence that was very damaging to them. Their aim was also to bankrupt a small campaigning group. Uncaged argued that it was in the public interest as it exposed wrong doing. The group further argued that their right to freedom of expression, and the general public's right to receive information, under the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated by the injunction.

In addition to fighting for the right to expose severe animal cruelty Uncaged were also fighting for the right to highlight the duplicitous nature of the relationship between the vivisection industry and the Labour Government. The 'Diaries of Despair' documents show that the Home Office is biased in favour of the vivisection industry and is often unwilling to enforce the regulations that govern animal experiments.

For example, the Home Office, in order to streamline and make it easier for companies to carry out experiments will deliberately underestimate the level of animal suffering for particular experiments in order for a licence to be more easily obtained for a series of experiments to take place. In the case of Imutran Document CY14 of the 'Diaries of Despair' (minutes of an Imutran/HLS meeting) describes how, back in 1995, Imutran report that "the Home Office will attempt to get [kidney transplants] classified as moderate procedures." A 'substantial' rating of suffering on the other hand could make it a lot more difficult for the experiment to be passed.

In order to get an idea of the type of experiments the Home Office classify as "moderately" severe the following are just a small example of what the Home Office classed as moderate suffering in order to fast track and some might say hoodwink the licensing process: the transplantation of piglet hearts into the necks of baboons. Pig hearts into the abdomens of wild-caught baboons and pig hearts into the abdomens of cynomolgus monkeys.

In 2003, after a legal battle lasting almost 3 years, and against all the odds, Uncaged won an historic legal victory which allowed the publication of the leaked documents.

The story doesn't end there however, hampered by their lack of funds for judicial review proceedings, Uncaged tried to use political channels and had gained the support of 200 MPs who had supported Uncaged's call for a independent judicial inquiry. However, the Government, in an attempt to protect one of their most favoured industries rejected the need for an inquiry.

Determined to see justice done, Uncaged looked at the next option available to them, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, one of the few routes available to investigate the Government. In 2003 Uncaged issued a complaint against the Government accusing the Home Office of misconduct.

Now, three years later, the Ombudsman issued what many view as a flawed decision which exonerates the Home Office. However, it now appears that a body whose role should be to hold the Government to account seems more designed to protect any malpractice within Government.

For example in the case of the Imutran experiments, monkeys and baboons were allowed to suffer the horrific effects of invasive surgery, organ rejection and drug poisoning until they collapsed and died. This was a blatant breach of the moderate severity limit, which is how the Home Office categorised the experiments in order to make it easier to approve them. But the Ombudsman dismissed the complaint by Uncaged claiming that the primates were not "harmed"!

Throughout the complaint to the Ombudsman, Uncaged were constantly having to point out to the regulatory parliamentary body that they have been misled by the Home Office. Uncaged have stated that: "All the way along, they have automatically trusted the Home Office and treated our detailed submissions with contempt. It seems like they have been desperately searching for an excuse to clear the Home Office rather than conduct the thorough and competent investigation they are supposed to perform. They seem to exist to give a mere illusion of accountability. Despite our explanations of their blatant mistakes".

The Ombudsman is now refusing to review their handling of the case, without explaining why and how they came to reach their decision. Uncaged have stated that "the way the system is set up is that unless you have millions of pounds at your disposal to fund legal proceedings, it's possible for the establishment to literally get away with murder by working together to block calls for justice. It confirms the appalling bias, elitism and arbitrary abuse of power that characterises British politics."

However, as Uncaged has shown in their 3 year legal fight to allow them to expose the malpractice at the very highest levels of Government and the corrupt nature of their dealings with the vivisection industry, the group has vowed to fight on and at the time of writing this, Uncaged are placing even more pressure on the Ombudsman to explain their behaviour.

For more information on the Diaries of Despair go to: www.xenodiaries.org

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