|LONDON - A City of London organisation says it is considering offering rewards for the arrest of animal rights extremists who intimidate people working for financial institutions.|
The National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF), whose members oversee more than 600 billion pounds of assets, said on Saturday the rewards were among plans being considered to tackle a growing problem caused by activists.
Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt said the government was also considering beefing up the laws against the animal rights militants.
\"We are consulting with the industry and the police about how we toughen the law to deal for instance with the problem of these terrorists and thugs turning up outside people\'s homes and then the minute you get an injunction against one person they disappear and somebody else takes their place,\" she told Channel 4 News.
This week, militants forced construction firm the Montpellier Group to pull out of building a new research laboratory at Oxford University - a move hailed by animal rights campaigners as a major victory.
\"The NAPF can confirm it is looking at the option of rewards for information that will curtail illegal intimidation of legitimate investors,\" an NAPF spokesman said.
\"It is part of the long-term examination into so-called investor terrorism.\"
The Times newspaper said on Saturday a 25 million pound reward fund was being created, but the NAPF spokesman said no figure had been agreed.
\"As our members are major investors in the stockmarket, it would be remiss of the NAPF not to examine the possibility of action against legitimate investment which damages UK PLC and in turn pension scheme members,\" the spokesman said, adding the body had no problems with \"legitimate protests\".
The Times said the NAPF would soon announce a steering committee made up of six leading businessmen who would run the campaign, which would include multi-million pound civil lawsuits against extremists who targeted company shareholders and executives.
\"We are not trying to be an alternative to the police force - we are going to work to complement the efforts of the police and the bioscience industry,\" an unnamed City lawyer close to NAPF was quoted by The Times as saying.
Montpellier\'s withdrawal from the Oxford University project was the second this year. In January, plans for a primate research laboratory in Cambridge were scrapped after violent protests.
For years, scientists at Britain\'s oldest drug-testing firm Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) have suffered physical, verbal and psychological abuse because of their work.
In 2001, police blamed extremists after an HLS top executive was attacked by three club-wielding assailants.
- additional reporting by Pete Harrison
Story by Michael Holden
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE