Huntingdon and backer Stephens sue activists: Anti-research campaign has far-reaching consequences
By: Norma Bennett Woolf Date: 01/9/2012 Category: | Animal Legislation |
Animal rights activists have taken their terrorist campaign against biomedical research to new heights with a multi-faceted scheme to drive Huntingdon Life Sciences out of business and send a message to other companies that use animals to develop and study new drugs and medical protocols – and Huntingdon has responded with a lawsuit that charges groups and individuals with conspiracy under the US Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act.
hile bullying tactics aimed directly at the company continue at an accelerated pace, extremists have opened a new front in the battle by terrorizing the banks, brokerages, and individuals that hold Huntingdon stock. Many of these companies have capitulated in the face of threats to employees and customers. However, even though Huntingdon’s British managing director was beaten by masked thugs in February and the company almost went belly-up last year, company officials and new investor Stephens Group of Little Rock, Arkansas, are unbowed.
Stephens filed the original lawsuit; Huntingdon joined in an amended complaint on April 19.
“Many of our stakeholders have been subject to appalling threats and intimidation from these extremists and firm action now needs to be taken,” said Brian Cass, Huntingdon’s managing director, when the amended complaint was filed. “The defendants are involved in a campaign not just aimed at Huntingdon but at all scientific animal research. However, we are the primary target today and we intend to show that we shall not merely cave in to their onslaught. For the benefit of all of us, this campaign of violence and intimidation of individuals, often at their homes, must be stopped. We and our clients and fellow researchers everywhere must be allowed to go about our crucial, and lawful endeavors free from fear.”
Defendants in the lawsuit include Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, Voices for Animals, Animal Defense League, In Defense of Animals. The suit requests injunctive relief to stop the defendants and those acting in concert with them from engaging in acts and threats of force, violence and intimidation directed at the company, Stephens, and their respective employees, customers, shareholders and investors.
The suit also seeks an award of monetary damages for losses incurred as a result of the defendants’ unlawful conduct. Huntingdon lost $7.5 million in 2000 and saw its stock price plummet more than 40 percent as the attacks gained momentum and investors bailed out to avoid being harassed by activists.
Animal rights activists accused Huntingdon of cruelty to animals in its laboratory practices in both the US and Britain in the mid-1990s. In the US, an operative from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals infiltrated the company’s New Jersey laboratory. Over an eight-month period, she surreptitiously video-taped scientists and animal handlers at work and stole proprietary research documents. PeTA edited the video tape and released a short segment to the news media and to companies that hired Huntingdon to conduct research projects.
At about the same time, Huntingdon was investigated by the US Department of Agriculture, and in April 1998, the agency and Huntingdon settled on a civil penalty of $50,000 in an agreement 1 that did not require the company to admit or deny the alleged violations. Twenty thousand dollars of the settlement went to the development of alternatives to animal testing, an additional $20,000 was allocated to construction of group housing for primates, and the remaining $10,000 went to the US Treasury. The agreement also required the company to hire a USDA-approved consultant to review research records and protocols and submit a report to the agency.
When PeTA and Huntingdon settled their case out of court, the animal rights group agreed to leave the company alone. Action then switched to England, where SHAC went on the offensive against banks that loaned Huntingdon money. One by one, the group pressured backers with threats, occupations, and accusations of supporting cruelty, and Huntingdon saw its support dwindle and its stock decline.
The Associated Press 2 reported that Charles Schwab brokerage dropped its Huntingdon stock because “An increasing number of employees was being ‘personally threatened, harassed, and intimidated by protesters,’ said Bob Duste, chief executive of Charles Schwab Europe. ‘It is now impossible to trade the stock through normal channels,’ Duste said.”
Winterflood Securities also felt the sting of terrorism for trading shares in Huntingdon.
ABC News 3 reported on April 4, 2001, that “After the family members of many of the firm’s officers received threatening phone calls, and one came home one Sunday to find a crowd of protesters ‘in balaclavas and death masks’ waiting for him and his two young children, Winterflood capitulated and dropped the lab’s stocks.”
The British government approved an additional £1 million to help Cambridgeshire police pay the costs of policing the protests at Huntingdon Life Sciences 4, and Huntingdon has asked the British government to consider a bill similar to the US Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act for prosecution of terrorists who target a company for destruction 5.
The London Treasury and the Financial Services Authority is considering a plan to shield stockbrokers that trade shares of Huntingdon Life Sciences 6, a British research charities group has severed ties with one of the banks that dropped Huntingdon because of protests 7, and Japanese drug firms may consider withdrawal of $1 billion in Britain’s research industry 8.
Pharmaceutical manufacturer Roche 9, a company that contracts with Huntingdon, sued activists in British Court after several of its employees were named on an animal rights website, staff members received death threats, and one employee was assaulted. Roche asked the court to enjoin the activists from publishing employee names and addresses on a website, pay £50,000 in legal fees, and compensate the company for copyright infringement for publishing plans of the company’s buildings on the Internet.
Huntingdon remains a target in US
While the lawsuit is pending, the company remains a target of demonstrations, animal theft, and harassment of investors. More than a dozen beagles were stolen from Huntingdon’s New Jersey laboratory on April 1, and three demonstrators were arrested in a demonstration outside the New Jersey laboratory on April 2. Activists disrupted business at Boston, Atlanta, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago offices of Stephens Incorporated on April 26-27, and the names and contact information for individual stock holders are featured on the website of the Frontline Information Service with a plea for letters to demand that they sever contact with the company.
About The Author
All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |