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 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
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
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
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
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