Seeing is BELIEVING
In 1996 Zoe Broughton worked as a laboratory technician inside
Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) whilst secretly filming. Her programme,
broadcast on Channel 4, sparked a downturn for the company from which it still hasn't recovered. Here we present extracts from the diary she kept at the time and her observations now, four vears on.
I followed the whole process; from the puppies' settling in weeks, through experiments, to the postmortems. As I was leaving, the staff told me my chores for the next morning not suspecting I would be in the edit suite at Small World Productions instead, assembling evidence of cruelty and incompetence.
It's A Dog's Life was broadcast on Channel 4 on 26 March 1997. At last, I thought; everyone will know what really goes on in the Huntingdon laboratories. I wished I could have seen the faces, and heard the comments of the staff I had worked with as they realised what I had really been doing there. My main worry was that, after the film had gone out, nothing would happen. The film would be shown, and I would move on to my next project.
Not so. Three of the laboratory technicians I had filmed were suspended from HLS the day after the broadcast. Two men I had shown hitting and shaking the dogs were arrested at their homes by the local police, and by the autumn had been prosecuted under the Animals Act of 1911. They admitted to charges of 'cruelly terrifying dogs', and were given community service orders and ordered to pay £250 costs by magistrates in Peterborough, the first time laboratory technicians have been prosecuted for animal cruelty in this country.
My film had shown one technician squirting a syringe of drug into the bin when he could not find the dog's vein, and the overall suggestion was that, as technicians weren't accurately measuring out the chemicals that were being tested, the data could be inaccurate. Some of the companies using this testing laboratory withdrew their contracts and the price of shares in HLS plummeted over the next few months from 121p to 54p, at which level the company asked for the value of the shares to be frozen on the stock market.
The Home Office began a full investigation into the allegations I had made, putting many man hours into watching all the uncut video evidence, interviewing past and present staff and studying the company's records. On 24 July 1997, Home Office minister George Howarth told Parliament in a written answer:
'Shortcomings relating to the care, treatment and handling of animals, and delegation of health checking to new staff of undetermined competence, demonstrate that the establishment was not appropriately staffed and that animals were not at all times provided with adequate care.' He therefore proposed to revoke the Certificate of Designation for the laboratories as from 30 November 1997. A replacement certificate was given after several stringent conditions had been met.
Whilst I had been working in the UK company; unbeknownst to me a woman had been doing precisely the same in the American HLS for PETA, (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). The events that she had allegedly witnessed were so disturbing that HLS decided to take action.
HLS took PETA to court and they now have a gagging order, stopping them from publicising or even talking about any of the information that they discovered; not because it is untrue, but because American company law protects companies, not freedom of speech or exposure of the truth. Astonishingly, this gagging order also means that PETA cannot communicate with the American Department of Agriculture, which, like our Home Office, was going to investigate the evidence. Obviously if the prime witness is forbidden to speak and cannot authenticate the evidence, then nothing can be done.
My film won two major awards; the British Environmental Media Award 'Scoop of the Year', and then the Brigitte Bardot Genesis Award which I went to America to receive. Clips of the film and the award ceremony in Hollywood were broadcast across the States on Discovery US, which makes the suppression of the footage gathered inside the American HLS especially ironic.
After my film had been broadcast protests began outside Huntingdon's laboratories, later spreading to the banks investing in the company. Whilst most of the protests were peaceful, there were some appalling acts of violence against laboratory staff by hardcore animal activists. I deplore this, but also think that the company has not been completely straight with the public when it claims that it is in financial trouble because of the violence (or, for that matter, when it says that the beagles in its laboratories are being used for testing life saving medicines as they admitted to Channel 4 News that a third of their tests are studying toxicity in substances such as pesticides).
Recently the company hit rock bottom, with its share price standing at under 2p per share. I woke one morning to hear on the radio that HLS could be about to announce its closure. At the eleventh hour HLS's largest shareholder, the Arkansas based Stephens Group, has now put up enough funding to ensure its operation until 2006.
I did not work there to try to close it down, but I was shocked by what was going on and hope I'd find it a changed place if I went back there now. OO
Zoe Broughton is a freelance video journalist.
Ecologist 31/2 Mar. 2001