The Ombudsman's Report into Illegal Cruelty in Animal Research


In 2003, Uncaged and their Director Dan Lyons won a historic legal victory over multinational drug company Novartis. Despite huge inequalities in resources, Uncaged won the right to published leaked confidential documents describing pig-to-primate organ transplant experiments that were conducted by Novartis' Cambridge-based subsidiary Imutran. Uncaged had argued that the public interest in revealing illegal animal cruelty and misconduct by Home Office Inspectors justified the disclosure of Novartis' confidential information. Uncaged subsequently lodged a complaint against the Home Office with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman ('the Ombudsman').

Flaws in the Ombudsman's Investigation

Unfortunately, the Ombudsman's investigation has been shambolic and strongly indicates a bias in favour of the Home Office. In particular, the investigation report makes a basic error when it confuses the facts of this case, which corresponds to the most severe level of pain and distress:

conscious primates being allowed to suffer in severe transplant experiments for several days until they are found dead or in a collapsed state

with this type of experiment, which regulations consider to involve the mildest level of pain:

experiments that are conducted entirely under general anaesthetic and where the animal is killed before it regains consciousness

The Ombudsman has interpreted our complaint as being about the deaths of the animals, when in fact it concerns the degree of suffering before the animals die. Death, in itself, is not considered a 'harm' under present legislation, so it is irrelevant to our complaint. Anyone who takes a few minutes to look into the case will be shocked at the Ombudsman's bizarre 'reasoning'.

A statement on the Ombudsman's website indicates that they refuse to acknowledge the serious failures in their handling of the case.

The Ombudsman's persistent refusal to:

  1. consider the case and the substantive issues we have raised in an objective way, and
  2. failure to offer any explanation for their perverse and irrational decisions

raises serious concerns about the competence and impartiality of their investigation. Indeed, the Ombudsman's conduct strongly suggests that they have sought to justify a predetermined conclusion (to exonerate the Home Office) rather than be guided by sound professional standards.

This is indicated by their refusal to acknowledge, never mind engage with, our explanation of why their report confuses the circumstances in our case with experiments conducted entirely under general anaesthesia. The claim on their website that they 'took full account of the further representations received in respect of the case' is mistaken and untrue.

Our explanation regarding the Ombudsman's confusion about the deaths of the Imutran primates was an entirely novel submission made in direct response to their report issued on 23 December 2005. The Ombudsman then decided to ignore that explanation on the false premise that it did not add to previous submissions. This decision is so obviously unsound that, inevitably, suspicions are raised about the motivation underpinning their handling of this case. These suspicions are only reinforced by their persistent refusal to offer an explanation for such a perplexing decision.

The Ombudsman's refusal to accept our criticisms of the report indicates that either they don't understand the case or they have made a conscious decision to discount those criticisms because that would jeopardise their predetermined decision.

Confidence in the Ombudsman's investigation is further undermined when one considers Uncaged's unique expertise in animal research policy. Dr Lyons has recently been awarded the Walter Bagehot Prize by the Political Studies Association (the learned society for political science in the UK) for the best thesis in Government and Public Administration in 2007. This research employed the Imutran experiments as a critical case study of the evolution of animal research policy, and establishes Dr Lyons as one of the UK's leading authorities on this subject. Professor William Maloney, who judged the prize, said: "Dr Lyons' thesis is theoretically and conceptually sophisticated, and the descriptive component of Dr Lyons' work is rich in detail and his analysis is thorough and excellent."

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the Ombudsman's investigation. In normal circumstances, they would come to Dr Lyons for expert advice to assist with investigations in this policy area. Yet, we have a surreal situation where, despite their relative ignorance, they lack the courtesy and impartiality to even consider Uncaged's submissions.

The Ombudsman's report is a travesty, and Uncaged will continue to highlight this fact until, at the very least, we receive a substantial response to our criticisms of the report. Given the Ombudsman's failure to take account of our substantial submissions, particularly in relation to the maladministration of severity limits, there remain compelling and substantial reasons to reopen the case.

Dr Dan Lyons, Uncaged Campaigns, 18 April 2008


Post-op baboon
Credit: Organ Farm

"We have been left with the impression that the PHSO's priority has been to dispose of the case and defend their original decision rather than operate an open and fair review process."

Uncaged Briefing, January 2007



































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