|Focus||Opposition to animal testing|
|University of Oxford, England|
SPEAK, the Voice for the Animals is a British animal rights campaign founded in 2003 that aims to end animal experimentation in the UK. It has to date fought against two projects. The first was a proposed non-human primate research facility at the University of Cambridge, which was abandoned in 2004, in part because of the protests. Its current campaign is focused on a new animal testing centre at the University of Oxford, the Biomedical Sciences Building, which SPEAK has opposed since it was first publicly proposed in 2004. The centre was officially opened on November 11, 2008 and was designed to house a variety of animals, mainly rodents, fish and ferrets, and will include non-human primates.
The campaign was born out of Stop Primate Experimentation at Cambridge (SPEAC), which in 2004 halted the construction at the University of Cambridge of a new primate research facility. Had it gone ahead, the facility would have been Europe's largest primate testing centre. Cambridge announced in January 2004 that the facility would not be built as a result of delays caused in part by animal rights protesters.
After this announcement, the coalition of activists involved in SPEAC learned that the University of Oxford was planning to build a new biomedical research facility to house research animals. In response, the activists announced the formation of "SPEAK, the Voice for the Animals," declaring that their campaign against Oxford would be the second stage in their efforts to end all animal testing in the UK. The activists said that talks between Oxford and Cambridge resulted in Oxford agreeing to conduct some of the brain experiments that were lost at Cambridge.
The spokesman for SPEAK in Oxford is Mel Broughton, who has served time in prison for possession of incendiary devices with intent to bomb Huntingdon Life Sciences, Europe's largest contract animal-testing laboratory, in connection with the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign. Other activists who have been named publicly are Robin Webb, who runs the Animal Liberation Press Office, and Amanda King, who was involved in the Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs campaign.
Withdrawal of contractor
In July 2004, the university's principal contractor, Walter Lilly, a subsidiary of the Montpellier Group, withdrew after its shareholders received threatening letters. Oxford continued the project amid tightened security with a new unnamed contractor.
Allegations of violence
Although SPEAK only sanctions legal avenues of protest, the campaign has been accompanied by acts of intimidation, incitement, and violence, usually claimed by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). Robert Cogswell, co-founder of SPEAK, has said the campaign neither condones nor condemns the actions of the ALF.
Incidents have included an arson attack on Hertford College boathouse; an attack on Corpus Christi College sports pavilion (which was, apparently, confused with Christ Church property); sending threatening letters to building firms connected with the construction project, the vandalism of other firms connected with the university, and threatening violence against Oxford University staff and students.
In December 2007, SPEAK spokesman Mel Broughton was charged with conspiracy to blackmail, two counts of possessing an explosive substance, and two counts of having an article with intent to damage, in connection with arson attempts at Oxford's Queen's College and Templeton College. At his 2008 trial he was cleared of possessing an explosive substance with intent, but the court was unable to reach a decision on the other charges. In 2009 he was convicted of conspiracy to commit arson and sentenced to 10 years by Oxford Crown Court. After Broughton's conviction it was reported that police had infiltrated the ALF. According to The Times, the documents obtained by the infiltrator showed the "ALF drew funding from - and often had the same leaders as - ostensibly peaceful groups such as Shac and Speak, an animal rights body in Oxford led by Broughton."
SPEAK say that, in the course of their legal protests and demonstrations, their members have suffered assaults and intimidation from police in collusion with the university. In September 2004, Mel Broughton's mother suffered minor injuries during a protest at the construction site, when an unidentified substance was thrown at her, allegedly by one of the construction workers. According to Thames Valley Police, a January 14, 2006 SPEAK protest resulted in around 350 protesters tearing down fences and throwing missiles at police officers. SPEAK, in response, accused the police of a "sustained and brutal attack" on protesters, including "women, children, the elderly and infirm."
In November 2004 the university obtained an injunction against a number of individuals and groups, including Broughton and SPEAK, which restricts them from approaching within 50 yards of the construction site and the homes of those connected with the construction, and from holding protests of greater than 50 people in Oxford without police support. The injunction followed mounting complaints from students, researchers and workers about the hours-long use of sirens and megaphones by SPEAK on an almost daily basis. In 2006, Oxford appealed to the High Court to extend the injunction after "clear threats" were made against the university by the ALF. The court ordered that the injunction be widened to extend the exclusion zone, ban the use of megaphones and afford greater protection to individuals supplying goods or service to the university. A request by Oxford to further restrict the number of protesters to 12 was denied.
The Sunday Times reported on June 18, 2006 that members of SPEAK have been awarded legal aid to finance a challenge to the injunction preventing protesters from photographing staff, students, and contractors at work or at their homes, and that places restrictions on the size and duration of demonstrations. The newspaper has named Mel Broughton, Robin Webb, and Amanda King as three of the activists who have received the funding. Since being granted legal aid, King was successful in having her name removed from the injunction, but Webb was not. He had argued that the injunction would curb his freedom of speech as a journalist, and that he was not a member of any animal rights group. According to The Guardian, in his ruling the judge described Webb as a "propagandist" and a "pivotal figure [in the ALF]".
Advertising Standards Authority ruling
A brochure produced by SPEAK included a quote from Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, chairman of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE). The quote stated that: "The animal testing regime ... is utterly futile." NICE objected that the statement was quoted out of context and was therefore misleading. In June 2006, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld the complaint by NICE and ruled that the use of the quote was in breach of ASA guidelines.
The ASA noted that Rawlins' quote referred to the use of animal testing in "long-term carcinogenicity studies with known genotoxic compounds or compounds that produced hyperplasia in chronic toxicity tests only," and did not imply that he was against all animal testing.
In January 2006, a student group called Pro-Test was formed by Laurie Pycroft, then a 16-year-old, with the aim of countering SPEAK and defending the use of animals in biomedical research. Both groups called demonstrations in Oxford on February 25, 2006, resulting in about 700 Pro-Test supporters opposed by 200-300 from SPEAK.
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- SPEAK campaign website
- Pro-Test website
- government regulations on animal research.
- The Animal Procedures Committee, a government advisory group.
- "Cambridge University", a summary of BUAV's report on Cambridge University.
- British Home Office response to the BUAV investigation (pdf), February 11, 2003
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- RDS Online, in defence of biomedical research, with Myths FAQ