Activist on trial in Oxford bomb allegations

Deputy News Editor 6 November 2008

A self-proclaimed animal rights activist was brought before court in Oxford last week, accused of being behind the planting of explosives at Oxford University in a campaign against animal research facilities.

Mel Broughton, a 48-year-old man from Northampton, was arrested last December when police searching his home found a university employee’s security pass and a list of targets for “direct action” in a notebook, the court was told.

On further investigation 14 packets of sparklers and a battery conductor were uncovered.

Mr Broughton appeared in Oxford Crown Court last week to face a series of allegations of conspiracy to commit arson, possession of articles with intent to destroy property, and keeping an explosive device with intent.

The accused, who was said in court to be a leading figure in the animal rights group SPEAK, is alleged to have been behind two attacks in Oxford which took place at Queen’s College sports pavilion and at Templeton College.

The ‘bombs’ used were made out of water bottles and sparklers. Whilst the device planted at Templeton failed to explode, the device planted at Queen’s College sports pavilion caused £14,000 worth of damage when it went off in November 2006.

It was also noted in court that Broughton had been convicted of conspiracy to cause an explosion likely to endanger life in 1998, after police found a bomb in the boot of his car.

John Price, prosecuting, told Oxford Crown Court that campaigns in Oxford included “acts of intimidation and violence…directed towards persons and institutions such as companies perceived as being in any way connected to the project.”

Price added that although these animal rights campaigns had tended to target buildings rather than people, the attacks carried out were nevertheless very threatening.

He added that they were “very dangerous and undoubtedly very serious criminal acts” which merited the label “terrorist”.

The court heard that SPEAK grew out of a campaign against the planned building of a primate research centre in Cambridge.

This project was cancelled in 2004 and the University issued a statement explaining their decision: “ultimately we have a responsibility to our students and staff not to take financial risks of this magnitude, and we believe that although regrettable, this is the right course of action.”

Both Oxford and Cambridge University have made clear that they, as institutions, respect legitimate animal rights campaigns.

A statement on the University of Oxford’s website confirms this.”The vast majority of those opposed to research using animals make their views heard within the law.”

They added, “The University is committed to free speech and supports people’s right to protest.”

However, given the sensitive nature of this ongoing matter, neither university has issued a comment on this specific case.

Anna Croall

Deputy News Editor