Money Talks

Greg Avery has spent seven years trying to close down Huntingdon Life Sciences. His early, crude opposition to animal experiments twice landed him in jail. But then he took his fight to the City - which is where, he claims, you really get results. Steve Boggan meets him ...

It is difficult not to fall back on stereotypes when waiting to meet Britain's most prolific animal rights campaigner. He is bound to arrive, his frame emaciated by a monk-like adherence to veganism, with a scraggy dog on a piece of string. He will stare with disapproval at my leather shoes and probe deftly into my meat-eating tendencies. He might even walk out when asked about his role in the guerrilla campaign that has rattled big business, enraged Tony Blair and almost brought Britain's biggest animal testing laboratory to its knees.

And then Greg Avery walks through the door, slightly chubby in a sensible shirt and fleece, looking like an accountant on dress-down Friday.

Avery, 38, is the mouthpiece and leading light of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac), the group that has waged a seven-year campaign to close down Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) in Cambridgeshire, a company that uses animals in pharmaceutical research. Since attracting the attention of Avery and friends, HLS has fallen from the London and New York stock exchanges, had loans called in from its bankers (the Bank of England, under pressure from the government, is now the only bank that will hold its account) and watched as shareholders, afraid of being accused of complicity in animal cruelty, have haemorrhaged away.
"I thought that was something I'd like to get involved in - I was about 15 at the time - and a friend at school had a contact so we went along to a hunt in Cheshire. As it happened, the weather was bad and the hunt was cancelled but there was a demo against an ICI animal research laboratory near Audley Edge, so we went to that instead."

In hunting terms, that was Avery's blooding. Protesters raided the lab and climbed on the roof. He remained an activist for the next 13 years. Then, in 1996, he heard of a campaign against Consort Bio Services kennels in Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire, which bred beagles for animal research, and decided to become involved.
We have had two hours of surprisingly candid conversation and now the scourge of the pharmaceutical industry is ready to leave. He knows many people oppose what he stands for, but he says he would rather "educate" them than enter into conflict with them. "Whatever you think of us," he says, "whether you like us and think we're the equivalent of Mary Poppins, or whether you regard us as mad extremists, you have to admit one thing - what we do works".

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