Construction had barely begun in February on a research laboratory at Oxford University -- one scheduled to experiment with animals -- when the string of violent incidents began.
In the months that followed, the offices and trucks of a major concrete supplier to the site were vandalized a dozen times. Animal welfare guerrillas with axes and bolt cutters sliced through brake lines and contaminated fuel tanks. A factory and several trucks were set on fire.
An anonymous posting on an animal welfare Web site called Arkangel, which described the raids, attributed the violence to a radical group called the Animal Liberation Front, which was formed in the 1970s.
In June, shareholders in the Montpellier Group, a publicly held company in London that was building the lab, received a forged letter, supposedly from the company's chairman, threatening them and telling them to sell their shares. Montpellier's stock price plummeted. The company soon pulled out of the project.
The construction site, in Oxford's science quadrangle, is now silent, although the university said that it would find another builder and that the work would continue on schedule.
Montpellier's withdrawal was the second major victory in Britain this year for emboldened animal welfare groups, which have proved to be more militant, and better organized and better financed, than ever. In January, after months of pressure, intimidation and protests from the groups, Cambridge University abandoned plans to build a major primate research center.
"It has been an incredible year for us," said Greg Avery, a spokesman for Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, a group that wages a continuing campaign against Britain's largest research lab, owned by Huntingdon Life Sciences, near Cambridge. "The animal-rights movement is bigger and stronger than it has ever been."
The militants' successes have alarmed investors, scientists and drug manufacturers, who warn that Britain -- a dominant force in the pharmaceutical industry -- could face a serious drop in biomedical investment if the campaigns are not curtailed. They have urged the British government to crack down on the people responsible.
"There has been a slow but steady escalation in their activity," said Mark Matfield, executive director of the Research Defense Society, which represents researchers who use animals in testing. "There have been changes in the law, bits of change, but the problem is getting worse instead of better."
The animal welfare movement here and elsewhere is mainly peaceful. It is particularly beloved and powerful in Britain, which is caricatured for its infatuation with animals. The nation has the most highly regulated animal welfare system in the world, a point scientists repeatedly make when discussing the use of live animals in medical research.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph in July, Jean-Pierre Garnier, the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical company, spoke publicly about the problem and said his British employees were being "terrorized" by the militant animal welfare groups.
He said his company was spending tens of millions of dollars to protect workers and buildings in Britain. The company's legal counsel recently moved out of his house with his children after receiving threats, Garnier said.
"I take it very personally," he told The Daily Telegraph, adding that several unnamed companies looking to invest had decided against Britain because of the intensity of the animal welfare campaigns.
Last month the government announced it would tighten its laws to make it harder for protesters to gather outside homes and offices, and to make it easier to charge them with harassment. Scientists say they have also been assured that Britain will use the military to protect sites, if necessary.
The moves were praised by researchers and investors but fell short of what they said was required to deal with the problem.
The US has faced similar threats from animal welfare advocates -- the FBI has called such advocates who hold militant views a serious domestic terrorist threat -- but has tougher laws to deal with their tactics.
Animal welfare advocates usually choose traditional methods like demonstrations and letter campaigns to protest the experiments, which they consider fruitless and immoral. Their hope is to stop animal research and persuade the government to invest more in developing alternative methods for testing medicine.
"Grabbing a beagle by the scruff of the neck and forcing a tube down his throat -- that's not science," Avery said.
The advocates working outside the law and going after anyone even tangentially linked to the research centers have garnered the most success, particularly at Huntingdon Life Sciences. Everyone associated with the lab, including cabdrivers, delivery workers and bank executives, has become a target.
Since the intimidation campaign began in 1999, the company has lost its insurers, its bank and its largest shareholders. It has moved from the British stock exchange to the NASDAQ exchange in the US, where privacy rights are stronger.
At the company's lowest point, the British government stepped in to provide insurance and set up an account with the Bank of England to keep it afloat. Taxi drivers sometimes refuse to pick up customers there, and the drivers of fuel trucks will not deliver oil.
This year, 51 suppliers cut off business relations with Huntingdon, a number that is tallied by the animal welfare groups.
The attacks can also be personal. The managing director of the lab, Brian Cass, was beaten by men with baseball bats, and the cars and homes of Huntingdon employees have been vandalized in attacks linked to animal welfare advocates.
"Sometimes they target the supplier of the supplier," said Matthew Worrall, a spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, adding that its member companies spend a combined US$54 million to US$127 million a year for protection.
Avery said his group was not responsible for any violence, and he defended its right to make life difficult for companies associated with the lab, calling them fair game.
"The companies involved are valid targets," he said. "Auschwitz would not have existed without people supplying gas, chemicals, food. Every single one of those, big or small, is a cog in that machine."
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