Animal Aid

HISTORIC VICTORY! - A stunning triumph... and the next steps

Posted 1 March 2004
Malish was used in exploratory brain research experiments from 1998 till late 2002 by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Photo credit: Israeli Society for the Abolition of Vivisection

The following comment from Andrew Tyler is reproduced from the Spring 2004 issue of Outrage - Animal Aid's quarterly magazine which is sent to all Animal Aid members. To find out more about joining Animal Aid click here.

On January 27, came the news for which so many of us had struggled for so long: Cambridge University was abandoning its plans to build a massive primate research centre on green belt land on the outskirts of the city.

Cambridge tried to bury its defeat under the media tumult caused by the university fees parliamentary vote and the report on the Hutton inquiry.

Its second line of defence was to characterise the withdrawal as a victory of moronic extremism over compassionate science that is on the brink of bringing relief to sufferers of Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, stroke, Huntington's and a dozen more ailments.

Sadly, many elements of the printed and broadcast media echoed this theme with a vengeance. This was despite being supplied with a wealth of information proving the contrary. They had their narrative and they were sticking to it.

The reality is that the University was besieged on all sides.

  • A planning inquiry - in which Animal Aid played a leading part - resulted in the government inspector ruling against the project on medical and scientific grounds.
  • When Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott overturned his own inspector and gave permission to the University to proceed, Animal Aid and the National Anti- Vivisection Society lodged a High Court challenge - due to be heard this spring.
  • More than 130 MPs had signed an Animal Aid-initiated Early Day Motion calling for all primate experiments to be banned - on the grounds that they cause suffering and were not medically useful.
  • The public had registered its opposition to monkey research through opinion polls we recently commissioned.
  • There was growing resistance within the University itself due to the controversial nature of the project and the massive financial burden it would place upon an institution already heavily in debt.
  • There were non-stop protests, petitioning and representations to the University and to the local council, most organised by local group X-CAPE and by SPEAC (Stop Primate Experiments At Cambridge).

All these elements added to the project's uncertainty and delay. This caused costs to spiral and opposition to grow both within and outside the University. An important additional factor was that Cambridge recently appointed Professor Alison Richard as its new vice chancellor.

Primates grooming. Credit: Iain Green.

Professor Richard has studied primates throughout the world and for 20 years played an active role in the protection of monkeys and their natural habitat. She came from Harvard University where her reputation was for financial prudence. It is likely that when seeing the kind of costly chaotic mess she had inherited relating to the primate centre proposal, she decided to get shot of it.

Cambridge has an annual strategic deficit of around £9 million. The capital costs of the proposed centre were already £8 million over budget, and the projected daily running costs were climbing through the roof. Even this disastrous situation could have been managed if the University teaching and student community was solidly behind the project. But it was not.

An important reason for internal support draining away was the deception practised by the University's governing Council on the University's 'parliament', known as Regent House. When it originally went to Regent House in 2001 for permission to proceed, the Council failed to declare that the new centre would be conducting experiments on monkeys. Approval was given by 'the parliament' on the nod but the feelings of widespread bitterness and resentment came to be unmanageable.

Future moves

What of the future? As we go to press, Animal Aid and NAVS are considering with our legal team how to proceed with the High Court challenge to John Prescott. On one point we are adamant: we shall not abandon that challenge until we are certain that Cambridge's monkey centre plans are disposed of for all time. As things stand, the permission granted by Prescott is active for five years. That means, within that time-frame, Cambridge can come forward and announce it has the money after all.

Of some concern in the immediate aftermath of the University's announcement, was that a primate research centre might be built instead at Porton Down, where the government recently established monkey breeding facilities. Any such move would be an attempt to put beyond public scrutiny that which is already morally and scientifically unsupportable.

The other - perhaps more realistic prospect - is that instead of establishing another focus for protest, the Medical Research Council and other funding bodies will bankroll extra monkey research in numerous universities and other such institutions across the country.

That is why the campaign to end all primate research - and experiments on every other species - will continue.

Thanks X-CAPE

Rev. James Thompson and Joan Court lead protestors in Cambridge

The campaign against the Cambridge Primate Centre was initiated and kept alive through the difficult early months by a small core of local campaigners who came to be known as X-CAPE (Cambridge Against Primate Experiments).

Throughout the whole saga they battled magnificently through the local council chambers, and protested across the city on church rooftops, outside and inside University buildings and on the streets of Cambridge. In particular, special recognition must go to Pat Griffin, Sue Hughes and Joan Court.

Working together

Animal Aid is proud of the central role we played in the Cambridge Primates Centre victory - starting in autumn 2000, soon after the University lodged its plans with the local council. We brought together the major national and local animal groups for a strategy meeting at a crucial time. We waged our campaign through the council chambers, through the media, at the public inquiry, the High Court, and by way of street protests.

But the victory is the product of several national and local organisations working, if not always directly together, then focused upon the same objective. We pay tribute to X-CAPE above on this page. The National Anti-Vivisection Society was our coalition ally at the public inquiry and also for the High Court challenge. Our expert scientific testimony was provided by Dr Ray Greek, Medical Director of Europeans For Medical Advancement. Kathy Archibald, EFMA's Director, was also indispensable.

Expert planning evidence was submitted by Anthony Keen - who crucially bolstered and kept alive South Cambridgeshire District Council's own opposition to the proposal. The British Union for the Abolition for Vivisection submitted important evidence at the public inquiry, based on the graphic undercover revelations of monkey brain experiments conducted at Cambridge University itself.

Other key evidence came from the International Primate Protection League, while in recent months, SPEAC has demonstrated the strength of grass roots opposition by organising some dramatic mass demos in the city.

The work of these groups and individuals - and many others - is evidence that our movement is never so effective as when we focus upon the same goal with unswerving determination and courage.

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