Every Thursday, travellers on South Parks Road in the science area of Oxford University are confronted by a dozen or so shouting demonstrators. Armed with banners and placards, they are opposing the construction of the university’s new animal house, which will centralise the existing departmentally housed animal facilities. In addition, every three months, they bus in up to 300 protesters to march in opposition to the steadily rising building. Injunctions prevent them demonstrating near the building, except on Thursdays, and from drowning out lectures in neighbouring labs with their megaphones — though recently a judge declined to make the injunctions permanent. Many of the leaders are in prison, but the protests continue.
They are in prison because many do not stop at legal demonstration, but feel justified in bombing, burning and battering. They burnt down the university boathouse in 2005; last year they planted a bomb in Templeton College. More recently, two members of the psychology staff had their cars firebombed; neither had any connection with animal experiments — indeed, the research of one of them helps children with language problems.
But the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) has declared anybody connected with Oxford University fair game. It has created such a climate of fear that the first contractor pulled out in 2004 and the animal building remained a silent shell for a year. Now workmen on the site wear black balaclavas to avoid being recognised, and all deliveries come from an anonymous collection point in unmarked vans. The cost of all this security is astronomical; whether the building will eventually function under such conditions is debatable. Clearly, anybody who says the ALF no longer operates in Britain is wrong.
This sorry history has had one good outcome. A remarkable 16-year-old from Swindon, Laurie Pycroft, was in Oxford during an ALF march and took exception to the lies they were shouting about animal experiments being painful and useless. So he took pen and paper, and drew up his own placard stating: “Animal tests save lives.”