Straw vetoes inquiry into horrific primate suffering - High Court
hearing will put Home Office on trial
In an extraordinary announcement, the Home Secretary has refused
to investigate a research programme involving the horrific suffering
and deaths of hundreds of higher primates (to
see the correspondence click here). The research into cross-species
transplant experiments also involved breaches of the law and was
littered with hundreds of errors, some of which had painful and
lethal consequences for the monkeys concerned.
Imutran Ltd, the Cambridge-based biotech subsidiary of the multinational
drug company Novartis, was responsible for the research programme.
On Thursday 14th December (commencing 2.00pm) Imutran will attempt
to obtain an injunction against anti-cruelty group Uncaged Campaigns
and the organisation's Director, Dan Lyons, at the High Court in
London to prevent the evidence from being placed in the public domain.
Several thousand pages of documents leaked to Uncaged Campaigns
from Imutran in spring were reported on by the Daily Express on
September 21. They reveal starkly how monkeys and wild-caught baboons
had been observed shivering, unsteady, in spasm, swollen, bruised
and with blood and pus seeping from wounds after Imutran scientists
had transplanted transgenic pig hearts and kidneys into the primates.
In one of the most grotesque studies, one monkey which had a pig
heart transplanted into its neck was seen holding the transplant
which was "swollen red" and "seeping yellow fluid"
in its final days. The experiments were performed at controversial
testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences, who were responsible for
many of the errors in the conduct of the research.
The episode highlights the cosy relationship between Home Office
Inspectors - charged with regulating animal research - and the establishments
they are supposed to regulate. These experiments were conducted
with the blessing and support of the Home Office, despite a legal
ban on "severe" suffering (1).
Breaches in laws and regulations went unpunished even when they
lead to the suffering and death of animals.
After the story was revealed in the Daily Express and by Uncaged
Campaigns on 21 September, the Junior Home Office Minister Mike
O'Brien announced that allegations of wrongdoing in animal research
would be investigated by the Home Office Inspectorate, and overseen
by the advisory Animal Procedures Committee (2).
However, in a quite breathtaking move, a subsequent announcement
by Home Secretary Jack Straw has quashed the inquiry (3).
Dan Lyons, author of the 150 page Diaries of Despair
report based on the documents, comments:
"This is the most deplorable and desperate reaction
I have witnessed from this Government. It is clearly a last-ditch
attempt to keep a lid on what will inevitably be an embarrassing
episode for the Home Office.
The Home Office appears to be content for companies
involved in vivisection to break the law and inflict horrific suffering
on animals - and is committed to protecting them from justice. This
is a scandal of profound significance."
The injunction hearing will effectively put the Home Office on
trial. One of the central arguments for the Defence is that there
is a clear public interest in the facts about this research being
widely known because, among other reasons, there is evidence that:
- The Home Office has failed to regulate the research properly
because of its indulgent attitude to the researchers and corresponding
disregard for animal welfare, in contravention of the Animals
(Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.
- Imutran's experiments caused severe suffering, which is illegal
- Imutran have distorted the truth in their public statements
about the success of the research and the welfare of the primates.
Dan Lyons comments:
"The stakes in the case could not be higher.
Apart from being a test case for freedom of expression under the
new Human Rights Act, the Home Office is effectively on trial. We
have a very strong case and, if the judgement is favourable to us,
it will send a clear message to the Government that it can no longer
bend the rules and flout the law in favour of powerful commercial
interests. By publishing the documents, we have merely sought to
stimulate public debate and try to ensure that the Home Office gives
the interests of animals the consideration that the law and the
- Paragraph 5.42 of the Guidance on the Operation
of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 states: "The
Secretary of State will not license any procedure likely to cause
severe pain and distress that cannot be alleviated." Article
8 of European Directive 86/609 stipulates: "If anaesthesia
is not possible, analgesics or other appropriate methods should
be used in order to ensure as far as possible that pain, suffering
and distress or harm are limited and that in any event the animal
is not subject to severe pain, distress or suffering."
- Written Answers, Wednesday 1 November 2000, in
reply to question tabled by Eileen Gordon (Romford)
- Written Answers, Wednesday 29 November 2000,
in reply to question tabled by Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and
Sheppey). Letter from Mike O'Brien MP to Dan Lyons, 29 November
2000 (to see the correspondence click here).
- See Note 1.
For further information, interviews and confirmation
of the court hearing time please contact Dan Lyons - 0114 283 1155
/ 07733 326068.
Notes for editors
- No legal action has been taken against either the Daily Express
or Uncaged Campaigns regarding the truthfulness of the published
articles and the Diaries of Despair report.
- The case will be heard by the Vice Chancellor, Lord Morritt.
- Solicitor for Uncaged Campaigns and Dan Lyons is Martin Smith,
at Simons, Muirhead & Burton (020 7556 3111). The Counsel
for the Defendants is David Bean QC from Matrix Chambers.
- An Early Day Motion will be tabled this week by Liberal Democrat
Animal Welfare Spokesperson Norman Baker MP, calling upon the
Government to establish an independent judicial inquiry into the
xenotransplantation research programme and the adequacy of the
Home Office regulation of the research.
- The following stars have signed a statement prepared by Uncaged
Campaigns which calls for an independent judicial inquiry: Peter
Gabriel, Jilly Cooper, Bruce Forsyth, Benjamin Zephaniah, Vernon
Coleman, Alexei Sayle, Chrissie Hynde, Hayley Mills, Julian Clary,
Annie Lennox, Joanna Lumley.
Uncaged Campaigns, 12 December 2000