Two arson attacks on Oxford University property were carried out in the last two months by animal rights activists claiming to be part of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). In July the Longbridges boathouse, which contains Hertford, St Hilda’s, St Catherine’s, Mansfield and St Benet’s Hall boats and boat clubs, was set ablaze. The fire, in which a total of 26 boats were rendered unuseable, caused an estimated £500,000 of damages.
As a result of the incident, insurance premiums will rise forcing those boatclubs already struggling financially to reassess their position. In the case of Hertford, the JCR has contributed to payment of these insurance premiums in the past. Fresh appeals are being made for corporate sponsorship and donations from college alumni. Even though all the colleges affected will be receiving insurance payouts to help recoup the losses, there are concerns as to whether replacement equipment will be ready in time for the Christ Church regatta later this term.
The second attack took place last month at Corpus Christi College, although no damage was done as the incendiary device was discovered and disabled before activation. When asked whether the attacks were levelled against the affected colleges specifically, ALF spokesperson Robin Webb responded “the animal rights movement sees all of the university as a legitimate target, whatever the department, college or associate.”
Katie Moore, President of the Mansfield College Boat Club stated that “all four of our boats were destroyed, all of which were ageing second hand boats. As the boats were only insured for market value we have received very little. The insurance money would hardly cover the cost of one new boat. Also our blades were not insured which also need replacing. We are looking at losses of £23,000-£25,000.”
Ed Mayne, Mansfield JCR President, was present at the scene of the fire and witnessed the blaze continue to the upstairs partition of St Catherine’s club room: “I arrived at about midnight when the fire had been put out downstairs, but we then saw a flame coming from Catz’s club room upstairs and the firemen moved us all back across the two bridges.” A total of 26 boats were destroyed by the fire.
Alice Motion, Boat Club Captain for St Hilda’s College, assessed the damages of the club to a total of £29,000 “Our new Sims boat is costing us £15,000; our second-hand Janousek is £9,000.” These costs will be partially covered by insurance which will account for £19,000 towards the costs of the boats and £5,000 for the blades. The remainder of the costs are being recouped via sponsors Citigroup as well as from alumni of the college.
Matt Roger, of Hertford College Boat Club, reported the loss of six racing eights and several smaller boats, all of which is being covered by insurance.
An anonymous article posted on an animal rights activist website entitled ‘Bite Back’ stated, “On 4 July an Animal Liberation Front cell travelled to Oxford armed with incendiary devices containing approximately 11 litres of petrol.” The article warned Oxford University “From here on nothing you own, rent or have dealings with is off limits until the project is scrapped” and that “builders and suppliers are going to get some, even if their involvement comes to light years later we will not let you off the hook!”
In response to the warnings issued on the site, a spokesperson from the university said “We are appalled by the contents of a statement concerning the fire in an Oxford College boathouse. The intimidating nature of this message is totally unacceptable.”
When asked what his attitude was to the arsonists, Ed Mayne replied “It’s frustrating being attacked for something we have nothing to do with. I’m taking a very liberal perspective on it all, and being angry doesn’t help the situation. If the attack was indeed carried out by animal rights protesters, I don’t think they’ve helped the anti-vivisectionist cause as they may well have lost potential student sympathisers.”
He added, “Attacking one of the poorest boatclubs in Oxford certainly isn’t going to help them.”
Alice Motion stated “It’s pathetic that this is the only way that they thought they would be able to get the message across, and we should not give in to these scare tactics.”
Katie Smith, a spokeswoman for Thames Valley Police said, “the boathouse investigation is still ongoing” She also stated that “such attacks are quite rare and not intended to endanger life.” Smith reassured students “the police are taking the attacks very seriously and would ask people to be vigilant and to consider security at all times.”
A university spokesperson stated “The University remains firmly committed to the completion of [the animal testing laboratory] which is part of an ongoing programme to replace and update existing laboratory space.” Webb opposed these sentiments by saying “the university won’t be successful, the facility won’t ever be used for what it is intended.”
Webb added, “We can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future with the Oxford Arson Squad. I assume the actions against Oxford University will continue while they try to press ahead with the facility.”ARCHIVE: 0th week MT 2005