Something is Rotten in the City of Oxford
Violence, intimidation, harassment, lies, deceit and abuse of the legal system - no, not tactics employed by those campaigning against the proposed Oxford animal laboratory but methods adopted by that most august of institutions, Oxford University.
It is now over a year since the SPEAK campaign was formed to oppose plans by the University to expand its vivisection capabilities. This period has seen an unprecedented level of activity by Oxford University, not only against those campaigning against them, but also against the students and employees who have dared to show any sympathy for the legitimate views of the SPEAK campaign. Ironically, the University maintain that they are a "bastion of free speech".
They have lied, deceived and manipulated the truth in order to keep the general public ignorant of the facts surrounding the development. From the outset, the university claimed through the media that the new facility would not be used to experiment on animals. SPEAK exposed this as a blatant lie.
Next, a leading animal researcher, once again using the media as a conduit for more lies, claimed that the facilities for the primates at Oxford were akin to a hotel and that the monkeys lounged around all day watching soap operas - this by the way, after the University had denied that any primates would be held at the new facility. This proved to be another mismanaged attempt to get the public on side.
Having witnessed the complete failure of their attempts to conceal the facts surrounding the development, the university has become increasingly desperate and has turned to the legal system for help. One must understand that the British legal system isn't a system designed to protect the individual; furthermore, this has demonstrated that it is designed to protect those with the largest bank balance. Laws designed to protect women from harassment are being used against those opposed to animal cruelty. In the case of the SPEAK campaign, as well as many other animal rights organisations, this means suppressing free speech and freedom of movement - and this in a so-called democratic society.
But Oxford University's game plan does not stop with the manipulation of the legal system; workers employed by the university have attacked 70-year-old peaceful campaigners exercising their democratic right to peacefully protest and have been able to do so with impunity.
A week seldom goes by without a letter or e-mail sent to SPEAK detailing the harassment and intimidation experienced either by employees or students. Students talking outside the building site to campaigners opposed to the laboratory have been handed injunctions, while one woman leaving the university's administration block last week illustrated the widely shared feelings about the university hierarchy when she said to us: "Please don't give up. I work for them, and I know how rotten they are."
If one scratches the surface, Oxford's respectable façade takes on a more sinister aspect, and this can perhaps best be understood when one takes a closer look at the university hierarchy and "old boy's network". Key positions within the university are held by vivisectors; a leading animal researcher at the university is not only a pro-vice chancellor (and a close friend of Colin Blakemore, director of the Medical Research Council) but also holds the top position at Oxford University's leading money-making operation, Oxford University Press (a position that makes them practically untouchable in this era of university under-funding). Money talks, and at Oxford it has allowed the vivisectors to bully, cajole and intimidate any dissenting voices.
But the University's influence doesn't end there. Closer scrutiny of the Thames Valley Police Authority brings to light something that might be considered a conflict of interest at the very least. Two individuals on the authority hold key positions at Oxford University - in fact, both men are vice-chairmen of the authority! This is not to say that we are casting any doubts on their integrity, but it may very well call into question the recent investigation by Thames Valley Police into allegations of cruelty to a monkey by a top researcher at the university and the failure of the CPS to prosecute that individual, despite the obvious breaches in animal welfare laws.
One thing that remains clear both from evidence that has come to light and our own research is that Oxford University has many influential friends in high places. Oxford University more than any other institution provides the ruling elite of this country with its manpower. Anyone who is anyone has been educated at either Oxford or Cambridge, although perhaps the 'old money' of Oxford has the greater clout.
Oxford University have never been that good at backing a winner or at being in touch with the 'common folk' - even as far back as the 17th Century, the university were at odds with the townspeople; hidden in their ivory towers, they backed Charles I against Parliament in the Civil War and we all know what happened there, don't we?
Far from being deterred by the odds against us, we are encouraged. If the University did not see us as a threat, they would not be pooling all their resources into attempting to silence us. SPEAK welcomes the fight ahead. We are ready for anything the University has to throw at us. We have called the shots so far in the campaign and intend for it to stay that way. So come on Oxford University, with your friends in high places, give it your best shot!
A more comprehensive version of the article will be in the next 'SPEAK OUT' magazine.