SPEAK return in biggest protest yet

By Catherine Little

Mel Broughton of SPEAK leads a protest against the South Parks laboratory

Hundreds of protesters once again took to the streets of Oxford last Saturday to mark World Day for Laboratory Animals, in a week that also saw the launch of a UK-wide ‘People’s Petition’, calling on support for animal research. The Thames Valley Police estimate that 1000 people assembled on Broad Street at midday on Saturday for the protest, organised by SPEAK in opposition to the South Parks animal lab. SPEAK place the figure at 1200.

In a departure from the route of previous SPEAK marches, the protesters moved towards the High Street and over Magdalen Bridge before reassembling in Cowley Place. The protest reached its conclusion in Keble road. The Bodleian library closed during the protest and colleges on the route of the march took precautionary security measures, locking doors and requiring students to show university cards on entry.

St Hilda’s Principal Judith English informed students of the measures by email, apologising for the inconvenience, but describing them as ‘essential to security.’ The Thames Valley Police said Saturday’s protest had passed peacefully. Francis Habgood, who oversaw the operation, said, "The police were able to work alongside the organisers of the demonstration to ensure the group achieved their right to lawful protest without causing any major problems for the rest of the city.

A spokesperson for SPEAK, Mel Broughton, said, "This march showed the level of public support we have for the campaign at this stage." "The authorities always try to paint us as a failure, but quite clearly the campaign is definitely growing." Saturday’s protest follows last week’s launch of a ‘People’s Petition’, calling on the UK public to back animal research.

The online petition, started by the Coalition for Medical Research (CMP) aims to give a voice to the ‘silent majority’ who accept the need for animal studies, but do not wish to take to the streets. The petition was launched after a request from David Taylor, an IT worker with no personal links to the industry. Taylor took his suggestion to the CMP after he became frustrated with the lack of public means of expressing support for medical research.

Taylor said, "I wanted some way to be able to say, ‘I support the work of medical researchers, I think it should happen in this country, I think it is valuable, and I think that people who do it should be able to do their work and live without fear.’" An increasing number of British research organisations are also putting their weight behind animal research.

100 leading UK bodies, including universities, medical research charities, academic societies and trusts, and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, recently posted statements on their websites backing the ethical use of animals in medical research. The web statements indicate that more organisations believe it is vital to speak out on this issue. The University of Bath states, ‘Work on animals is essential for the progress of medical research.

Executive Director of the Research Defence Society Dr Simon Festing said, "We are delighted that organisations are taking the first steps to put the case for well-regulated animal research for medical advancement." "Those of us involved in life-saving research will not be cowed into submission by thugs in balaclavas." A spokeswoman for Oxford University said, "We were the first academic university to publish our stance on animal rights. We really led the way in this field."

27th Apr 2006