Oxford march supports animal testing

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Around 600 people gather in Catte Street, Oxford, on the PRO-test march.

Oxford, England - Today saw the first demonstration in support of Oxford University's new animal testing facility on South Parks Road. Around 600 students marched under the banner of PRO-test, an organisation set up several weeks ago in opposition to SPEAK, which campaigns and demonstrates frequently in the city for animal rights.

The demonstration began at 11:30am outside Balliol College on Broad Street, in the historic centre of the city, and (just before midday) marched along Holywell Street and Mansfield Road up towards South Parks Road. Police prevented the PRO-test demonstration from reaching the actual building site because of a SPEAK protest (around 150 people, according to Thames Valley Police[1]) which was occurring there at that time. The crowd was addressed[2] by neurosurgeon Tipu Aziz, Dr Simon Festing (executive director of the Research Defense Society), and Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris, amongst others.

Students demonstrated for different reasons, however. Some were obviously marching in favour of animal testing in order to further medical research, while others wanted to show solidarity with researchers and the university, who have been coming under increasing pressure from organisations such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).

Last year, the ALF claimed responsibility for its arson attack on the Long Bridges boathouse, and recently it put out a communiqué[3] stating that they "must target professors, teachers, heads, students, investors, partners, supporters and ANYONE that dares to deal in any part of the University in any way." SPEAK and the ALF are separate organisations; the former campaigns peacefully, while the latter often uses tactics such as threatening letters, intimidation and criminal damage to further its cause. It should be noted, however, that in an interview for Sky News[4] on the 25th February, a spokeswoman for SPEAK refused to condemn their activities.

The PRO-test march returned back down Mansfield Road and Holywell Street (in order to avoid passing the SPEAK demonstration), and finished outside the Radcliffe Camera. After a few speeches, everyone dispersed, the demonstration having passed off peacefully, though there was an attempt by five SPEAK demonstrators to break through the police line. SPEAK activists continued to leaflet on Cornmarket Street, and marched down from outside the research lab into the centre around 2pm.