30 Jul 2004 11:45 AM

A crackdown on the animal rights extremists who intimidate and harass legitimate businesses was announced today by Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt and Home Office Minister, Caroline Flint.

A series of tough new measures will help deal with the illegal activists who harass, threaten or physically attack those involved in vital, life-saving scientific research. The plans will significantly strengthen police powers to tackle protests outside people's homes and help stop the harassment of companies.

The changes will:

* give the police powers to arrest individuals protesting outside someone's home;

* give the police powers to ban protestors from the vicinity of a person's home for three months; and

* strengthen the harassment laws to deal with campaigns of harassment aimed at a groups of people working for the same company.

The detailed proposals are set in out a joint Home Office/DTI paper published today, 'Animal Welfare: Human Rights - Protecting people from animal rights extremists'. The new proposals strengthen ongoing action by the Government, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to deal with criminal extremists and underline the Government's commitment to protecting the scientific community.

Ms Hewitt said:

"I am proud of the advances in medical research that have been brought about by the work of UK scientists and businesses who make a huge contribution to our economy and prosperity. Our lifespan would be shorter, our health worse and our environment and country poorer without these people who carry it out.

"Animal rights extremists do not have the right to harass and physically attack those involved in lawful business and research. The Government is committed to protecting those who work in the bioscience sector, whether directly or in the supply chain."

Ms Flint said:

"It is wholly unacceptable that a small number of criminal extremists attempt to stop individuals and companies going about their legitimate business. Their tactics of intimidation and violence are deplorable and I am determined to do everything in my power to put an end to it.

"The Home Office has already provided the police with tough powers to counter animal extremists and these powers are already being used to good effect, but more needs to be done.

"People have the right to campaign lawfully and peacefully against the use of animals in scientific research. But they do not have the right to intimidate people and their families in their own homes, nor do they have the right to harass people at work or destroy their livelihoods.

"By toughening up the law on protests and harassment, and with robust enforcement by the police, and courts, the Government intends to put a stop to the animal extremists' reign of terror.

"Animal research has helped save hundreds of millions of lives, and is only carried out where absolutely necessary and under stringent controls. I am determined that, until suitable alternatives are found, this vital work should continue so that hundreds of millions more lives can be saved in the future."

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, said:

"Animal rights extremists are determined and committed. And our response is equally determined and committed. The national forum of police and prosecutors which I have established is already building up experience of how best to use the available legislation to bring these offences to court and put an end to unlawful, harassing and intimidating behaviour.

"The new measures announced today give further tools to the network of specially trained prosecutors, one in each area across England and Wales, so they can deal with the extremists and ensure they feel the full weight of the criminal justice system."

Note to Editors

1. 'Animal Welfare: Human Rights - Protecting people from animal rights extremists' is available at:

2. The new proposals announced today are:

* To make it an offence for a person to be outside a home for the purpose of representing to or persuading the resident, or anyone else, that he should not do something he is entitled to do, or that he should do something he is not obliged to do and causing harassment, alarm or distress to the resident.

The new offence will not apply to conduct that is lawful under section 220 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (the right to picket a workplace peacefully).

The new offence would be arrestable so that the police will be able to make an arrest where they have reasonable grounds for suspecting the offence has taken place and have reasonable grounds for suspecting the protestor is guilty of the offence. This means that the police will be able to deal with protestors after the event which will address the difficulties of having to enforce a direction at the scene of the protest.

* Amending section 42 (7) of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 to make it an offence for a person subject to a direction to return to the vicinity of the premises within three months for the purposes of representing to or persuading the resident or another that he should not do something he is entitled to do or that he should do something he is not obliged to do.

* Amending the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Section 2 makes it a criminal offence for a person to pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another and which that person knows amounts to harassment of the other. To secure a conviction it needs to be proven that there is a course of conduct in which a person harassed another. The courts have applied a strict interpretation of the word "another" which has confined the application of this provision to harassment of specific individuals and thus employees of a company do not presently benefit from this provision when they have not previously themselves been harassed, even though a fellow employee has been.

In order to address this problem, the Government is proposing to extend the Act to cover harassment of two or more people who are connected (e.g. employees of the same company) even if each individual is harassed on only one occasion.

3. The legislative proposals will be taken forward as soon as Parliamentary time allows.

4. Police already have a range of powers under existing criminal law and public order legislation to deal with extremists:

The Public Order Act 1986:

* Gives the police powers to act in respect of a range of criminal offences relating to public disorder, for example when threatening or abusive behaviour or harassment occurs.

Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001:

* The Act provided a new power for police to move protestors way from homes, where such protests may cause harassment, alarm or distress. This is already being used successfully.

* Strengthens the provisions on sending malicious communications with the intent to cause distress or anxiety on malicious communications to cover all forms of communications, amend the statutory defence and make this an imprisonable offence.

* Amends the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to clarify that it is an offence for a group of people to collude with each other to cause others harassment, alarm or distress, where each one of the perpetrators only undertakes one action of harassment.

* The Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 also contains measures to enable company directors who may be subject to violence or intimidation to apply for a Confidentiality Order to prevent their home address appearing in future on public records at Companies House. These provisions came into force on 2 April 2002. They apply to any director who is considered at risk and are not restricted to directors of scientific companies.

Anti Social Behaviour Act 2003:

* The definition of public assemblies was amended to enable the police to impose conditions on smaller groups of protestors who conduct intimidatory protests outside targeted premises. It is a common tactic of animal rights protestors to demonstrate in numbers far fewer than 20.

* It also extended the offence of aggravated trespass to include buildings, giving the police additional powers to deal with protestors who occupy or invade buildings.

* These changes came into force on 20 January 2004.

Other measures:

* The Government has set up a Cabinet Committee, chaired by the Home Secretary, to drive forward work on tackling animal rights extremism.

* A specialist police unit, located in the National Crime Squad, has been created to target leading organisers of violent animal rights protest.

* The ACPO National Extremism Tactical Co-ordinating Unit (NETCU), set up in March with Home Office funding, and the appointment of an ACPO National Co-ordinator of Domestic Extremist work (NCDE) are providing tactical advice to forces on extremist protests and acting as a liaison point for industry.

* The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has produced a protocol, agreed by all forces on the arrangements for cross-border operations between police forces. It has also produced a good practice guide on dealing with the activities of extremists.

* A national forum on policing and prosecution of animal rights cases has been established, at the suggestion of the Attorney General, in order to pull together the individual areas of expertise within the police, CPS and the courts to create a national strategic approach to dealing with animal rights extremists.

* The Home Office has produced a guide "Extremism: Protecting People and Property" for security managers of companies who might be targeted by animal rights extremists, to help ensure their employees' personal safety.

5. In May this year, the Government established a National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, which reports to the Office of Science and Technology. The Centre will focus on current developments in science which provide opportunities to do work on the replacement of animal use, refinement of the procedures involved to minimise suffering and reduction of the number of animals used. Funding for the 3Rs will double from 330,000 to 660,000 this financial year, with further increases expected thereafter.