Tough new powers to tackle the animal rights extremist campaigns of violence and intimidation aimed at companies and individuals involved in research with animals have been implemented, the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry revealed on Friday.

It is now a criminal offence under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act to target any scientist, research facility or company in the supply chain with a campaign of unlawful acts, which includes criminal damage, trespass, blackmail and libel. Such offences carry a penalty of up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine.

Home Office Minster, Paul Goggins, said: “People have a right to campaign lawfully against the use of animals in scientific research, but they do not have the right to engage in acts of intimidation or violence against individuals and firms working in this area. These new measures will help to stamp out the abhorrent campaigns of harassment and intimidation that a minority of extremists are engaged in and will protect those engaged in legitimate, lawful work. We will not allow animal rights extremists to threaten these people and the vital work they do.”

The move was first mooted earlier this year in response to long-running concerns that suppliers in the UK are being forced to stop providing their services to firms that specialise in animal research because of intimidation from animal extremists [[01/02/05c]], [[20/01/05b]]. So serious is the issue, that Huntingdon Life Sciences was forced to relocate its main operations to the USA almost four three years ago and de-listed from the London Stock Exchange, claiming it needed to protect itself and its shareholders from the actions of animal activists [[10/10/01a]].

Aisling Burnand, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association, welcomed the move, commenting: “This legislation eliminates the grey area in which animal rights extremists have previously operated, and will protect companies and individuals engaged in legitimate, groundbreaking bioscience research in this country and, crucially, all those connected with the research.”