Hillgrove Farm, in Oxfordshire, was the UK's only commercial breeder of laboratory cats. It closed in 1999 after three years of aggressive and sometimes violent demonstrations, harassment and intimidation. This was only the second time the extremists had succeeded in closing down an establishment. The first was Consort Kennels in Hereford, which bred laboratory beagles. It was closed in 1997 after a 10-month campaign including raids after the theft of 26 beagles.
The owner of Hillgrove Farm, Chris Brown, and his wife Christine were physically assaulted. Their car was fire-bombed. Staff homes were attacked. More than 300 arrests were made at or near the farm for public disorder, criminal damage and other offences. Twenty one activists were jailed. Others received non-custodial sentences. Policing the Hillgrove protests cost an estimated £3 million.
The effect of the farm closure on research involving cats in the UK (mostly veterinary research and neurological studies) was minimal: the effect on laboratory cat welfare was of more concern. While some laboratories bred their own cats, others had to turn to overseas suppliers which were likely to be subject to less stringent controls.
Darley Oaks Farm, in Staffordshire, closed its guinea pig breeding business in 2005 after a six-year campaign. The farm was owned by two brothers, John and Christopher Hall. In 2004 the remains of Christopher Hall's mother-in-law, Gladys Hammond, were taken from her grave. Several animal liberation groups publicly condemned the desecration, but the Animals Rights Militia claimed responsibility in letters to the Halls and the media. The letters also threatened the lives of family members.
The Halls had to destroy their dairy herd because they could not get anyone to collect the milk - the activists intimidated local contractors and suppliers as well as employees. There were arson attacks, explosions, death threats, bricks through windows and smear campaigns alleging paedophilia. The local pub, golf course and tennis club were vandalised and nearby beauty spots daubed with abusive graffiti. There were more than 400 criminal acts logged in two years alone.The three main extremists linked to the desecration of Mrs Hammond's grave were each jailed for 12 years.
Professor Colin Blakemore, Professor of Physiology at Oxford University, is one of the world's leading vision scientists. His work has included experiments on cats. Over a period of 20 years he received letter bombs, death threats against him and his family, razor blades in the post, had his car damaged and the doors and windows of his home smashed. An anonymous caller rang his pregnant wife to say: 'I hope your baby is born deformed.' At one time the three Blakemore children were not allowed to leave home unaccompanied. On World Day for Laboratory Animals in April 1997, 300 activists in balaclavas surrounded their home.
By the end of the 1990s, he was frustrated that bodies like the Medical Research Council (MRC) were not doing more to protect scientists. In 2003 he was appointed as the MRC Chief Executive where he remained until 2007. He has consistently stressed that animal research is crucial to medical progress and was the first chairman of Understanding Animal Research.
Professor Sir Roy Calne was one of the pioneers of liver and kidney transplantation at Addenbrooke's Hospital, in Cambridge. He received a letter bomb in 1982 from the Animal Rights Militia.
In a letter toThe Timeshe asked whether the idealism of ‘these criminals' would be sufficient for them to refuse treatment with antibiotics or withhold insulin from their children should they become diabetic. He wondered if they would deny open heart surgery to babies born with congenital heart disease or forbid a life-saving kidney graft to a child with kidney failure. These, were, of course, some of the benefits of animal research.
He told an RDS meeting (RDS was a forerunner of Understanding Animal Research) that he worried for himself, his family and his technicians, but he would not be silenced because the consequences of bowing to this very real threat of violence were unthinkable.