Sunday. 24 October 2004
Business section

Task force put on hold as the City backs away from confrontation with animal extremists
By Tim Webb

City plans to combat animal rights extremists who target companies and their employees have stalled as companies and institutions fear becoming targets themselves.

Plans to form a task force of City grandees to co-ordinate self-policing initiatives have foundered because of difficulties in recruiting a chairman. Proposals for a "bounty" fund to pay for information leading to the arrest of animal rights and other single-interest group extremists targeting companies and their associates have also yet to get off the ground.

Beside tougher new laws on the activities of extremists, City figures have been trying to draw up guidelines on how to prevent companies and individuals being targeted and how to counter intimidation tactics. While informal talks are continuing on these issues, City sources say that many institutions and companies have decided that dealing with the extremists is a matter best left to the police and to a new task force with stronger powers.

The National Association of Pension Funds, which represents pension funds managing more than £600bn, has been one of the few City organisations to actively seek views on the most effective response. A spokesman said:
"There have been informal discussions over whether there is an issue, whether there is likely to be one, and if the answer is yes to both, who best and how best to address it. But there have been no further developments beyond this."

Concern over the influence of animal rights extremists resurfaced earlier this year when construction company Montpellier cancelled a contract to build an animal testing laboratory for Oxford University after employees, shareholders and suppliers were targeted by extremists.

The grave of an 82-year-old woman whose son-in-law runs a farm that breeds guinea pigs for medical research was desecrated earlier this month. Police believe animal rights extremists were responsible.]

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said last week that the amendments to legislation proposed in the summer will be a "real issue in the coming session", suggesting that they will be included in the Queen's Speech next month.

But the drugs company AstraZeneca also said last week it was moving some research jobs to the US and Asia, partly due to the extremists' activities.