Animals In Print
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From Animals in Print 7 February 2001 Issue:
Animal testing lab faces ruin as bank cancels
By Ian McKerron and David Harrison
BRITAIN'S biggest animal testing laboratory faces closure after the Royal Bank of Scotland cancelled a £22.5 million loan because animal rights extremists threatened to target staff and customers. The decision to call in the overdraft facility of Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) will trigger a legal battle as the company fights closure and the loss of 1,200 jobs. Last night, Andrew Baker, the HLS chairman, said that the bank's executives were "cowards" who had given in to "a small group of insignificant bullies who have nothing better to do than make a nuisance of themselves".
Mr Baker said: "The bank is subjecting my company and the 1,200 people who work for me to death by a thousand cuts." The bank's decision was confirmed at talks in London last week when senior executives rejected Mr Baker's plea for time to find new financial backers.
Mr Baker, a former chartered accountant from Bromley, south London, said: "I appealed for them to give me the three or four months I need to refinance the company. It's crazy because if they force us to shut down they will never get their money back."
Mr Baker said that he was putting £4 million into the company and had already found another £11 million from investors. He said: "I can understand the bank's concern about the threats from these animal extremists, but it's ludicrous that the Royal Bank of Scotland should allow itself to be bullied like this."
Mr Baker said: "What kind of message does that send out to its business customers? If these people are allowed to win it will be a disaster not only for us but for Britain. It will be the beginning of the end for the pharmaceutical and medical research industries."
The company, based in Alconbury, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, conducts tests for international pharmaceutical companies and is licensed by the Home Office. For more than a year the laboratory has been the target of an increasingly violent campaign by a group called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac) which wants to force the laboratory, and a sister firm at Occold, Suffolk, to close.
The activists have subjected scientists to death threats, hate mail and abusive phone calls. Eleven cars owned by HLS staff have been set on fire. Two days before Christmas a senior manager had ammonia sprayed in his eyes in front of his wife and children.
Last month The Telegraph disclosed that individual HLS shareholders were also the targets of a campaign of harassment and intimidation. The extremists have threatened to harass and intimidate bank staff and stage sit-ins at branches of the Royal and its sister bank, NatWest.
Greg Avery, a leading Shac activist, said: "The only thing standing between HLS and going bust is that loan, so that is why we are now going after the bank." The Shac campaign has had results, with clients withdrawing their business after threats against their families. Large shareholders, including the Labour Party's superannuation fund and Phillips and Drew, a pension fund manager, have sold up.
The Bank of New York off-loaded more than seven million Huntingdon shares and HSBC, formerly Midland Bank, has withdrawn as a trustee for the company's shareholders. HLS's legal action against the Royal is likely to be based on a claim that the bank broke its duty of confidentiality when it admitted in a letter to the RSPCA that it was concerned about the tests at the laboratory.
The letter was later made public and led to an exodus of leading shareholders. Mr Baker bought HLS two years ago after allegations about animal cruelty sent its share price tumbling. At that time it was losing £1 million a month. The company expected to break even this year.
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