Straw vetoes inquiry into horrific primate suffering - High Court hearing will put Home Office on trial

In an extraordinary announcement, the Home Secretary has refused to investigate a research programme involving the horrific suffering and deaths of hundreds of higher primates (to see the correspondence click here). The research into cross-species transplant experiments also involved breaches of the law and was littered with hundreds of errors, some of which had painful and lethal consequences for the monkeys concerned.

Imutran Ltd, the Cambridge-based biotech subsidiary of the multinational drug company Novartis, was responsible for the research programme. On Thursday 14th December (commencing 2.00pm) Imutran will attempt to obtain an injunction against anti-cruelty group Uncaged Campaigns and the organisation's Director, Dan Lyons, at the High Court in London to prevent the evidence from being placed in the public domain.

Several thousand pages of documents leaked to Uncaged Campaigns from Imutran in spring were reported on by the Daily Express on September 21. They reveal starkly how monkeys and wild-caught baboons had been observed shivering, unsteady, in spasm, swollen, bruised and with blood and pus seeping from wounds after Imutran scientists had transplanted transgenic pig hearts and kidneys into the primates. In one of the most grotesque studies, one monkey which had a pig heart transplanted into its neck was seen holding the transplant which was "swollen red" and "seeping yellow fluid" in its final days. The experiments were performed at controversial testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences, who were responsible for many of the errors in the conduct of the research.

The episode highlights the cosy relationship between Home Office Inspectors - charged with regulating animal research - and the establishments they are supposed to regulate. These experiments were conducted with the blessing and support of the Home Office, despite a legal ban on "severe" suffering (1). Breaches in laws and regulations went unpunished even when they lead to the suffering and death of animals.

After the story was revealed in the Daily Express and by Uncaged Campaigns on 21 September, the Junior Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien announced that allegations of wrongdoing in animal research would be investigated by the Home Office Inspectorate, and overseen by the advisory Animal Procedures Committee (2).

However, in a quite breathtaking move, a subsequent announcement by Home Secretary Jack Straw has quashed the inquiry (3).

Dan Lyons, author of the 150 page Diaries of Despair report based on the documents, comments:

"This is the most deplorable and desperate reaction I have witnessed from this Government. It is clearly a last-ditch attempt to keep a lid on what will inevitably be an embarrassing episode for the Home Office.

The Home Office appears to be content for companies involved in vivisection to break the law and inflict horrific suffering on animals - and is committed to protecting them from justice. This is a scandal of profound significance."

The injunction hearing will effectively put the Home Office on trial. One of the central arguments for the Defence is that there is a clear public interest in the facts about this research being widely known because, among other reasons, there is evidence that:

  • The Home Office has failed to regulate the research properly because of its indulgent attitude to the researchers and corresponding disregard for animal welfare, in contravention of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.
  • Imutran's experiments caused severe suffering, which is illegal (4).
  • Imutran have distorted the truth in their public statements about the success of the research and the welfare of the primates.

Dan Lyons comments:

"The stakes in the case could not be higher. Apart from being a test case for freedom of expression under the new Human Rights Act, the Home Office is effectively on trial. We have a very strong case and, if the judgement is favourable to us, it will send a clear message to the Government that it can no longer bend the rules and flout the law in favour of powerful commercial interests. By publishing the documents, we have merely sought to stimulate public debate and try to ensure that the Home Office gives the interests of animals the consideration that the law and the public demands."


  1. Paragraph 5.42 of the Guidance on the Operation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 states: "The Secretary of State will not license any procedure likely to cause severe pain and distress that cannot be alleviated." Article 8 of European Directive 86/609 stipulates: "If anaesthesia is not possible, analgesics or other appropriate methods should be used in order to ensure as far as possible that pain, suffering and distress or harm are limited and that in any event the animal is not subject to severe pain, distress or suffering."
  2. Written Answers, Wednesday 1 November 2000, in reply to question tabled by Eileen Gordon (Romford)
  3. Written Answers, Wednesday 29 November 2000, in reply to question tabled by Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey). Letter from Mike O'Brien MP to Dan Lyons, 29 November 2000 (to see the correspondence click here).
  4. See Note 1.

For further information, interviews and confirmation of the court hearing time please contact Dan Lyons - 0114 283 1155 / 07733 326068.

Notes for editors

  • No legal action has been taken against either the Daily Express or Uncaged Campaigns regarding the truthfulness of the published articles and the Diaries of Despair report.
  • The case will be heard by the Vice Chancellor, Lord Morritt.
  • Solicitor for Uncaged Campaigns and Dan Lyons is Martin Smith, at Simons, Muirhead & Burton (020 7556 3111). The Counsel for the Defendants is David Bean QC from Matrix Chambers.
  • An Early Day Motion will be tabled this week by Liberal Democrat Animal Welfare Spokesperson Norman Baker MP, calling upon the Government to establish an independent judicial inquiry into the xenotransplantation research programme and the adequacy of the Home Office regulation of the research.
  • The following stars have signed a statement prepared by Uncaged Campaigns which calls for an independent judicial inquiry: Peter Gabriel, Jilly Cooper, Bruce Forsyth, Benjamin Zephaniah, Vernon Coleman, Alexei Sayle, Chrissie Hynde, Hayley Mills, Julian Clary, Annie Lennox, Joanna Lumley.

Uncaged Campaigns, 12 December 2000


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