Readers response from MP concerning NETCU

Anonymous wrote:

This was the response to my letter to my MP enquiring about the public funding and accountability of NETCU; noting that its headquarters are in Huntingdon; and taking issue with their comments that organisations and their employees should not enter into dialogue or discuss any matter with those “using non-threatening, lawful actions – such as polite phone calls, email and letters – that escalate to intimidating, criminal activity.”

Vernon Coaker MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
2 Marsham Street
London
SW1P 4DF

Lynne Featherstone MP
House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

Ref: M191125/6

Your Reference: NECTUF

23 August 2006

Dear Lynne,
Thank you for your letter of 7 August 2006 on behalf of [name and address deleted], London who has expressed concern about the National Extermism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU) and asks for more information about its status.

NECTU is a national police unit and as such is impartial in the debate on the use of animals in research. It was set up to provide guidance to the police service on best practice in policing extremist activity and its associated criminality. It also provides advice, guidance and information to targets of extremism on how to best protect themselves and their staff. The use of the terms ‘extremism’ and ‘extremist’ refers to protesters who promote or commit criminal acts to further their campaigns.

NECTU – in common with police units – is funded by the Home Office and reports to the Association of Chief Police Officers Terrorism and Allied Matters – ACPO(TAM). For operational and secury reasons it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the level of funding that NECTU receives. As a police bod it is accountable to the public; it is not linked to Huntingdon Life Sciences.

[Name] is particularly concerned about the advice provided on NECTU’s website to individuals or ogranisations not to engage in dialogue with animal rights extremists. She also takes issue with NECTU’s comment that “animal rights extremist tactics start with non-threatening, lawful actions such as polite phone calls, emails, letters”. I agree with [name] that there is nothing wrong or unlawful about such actions, but NECTU’s point is that such actions are often a precursor to criminal activity by extremists, and it is therefore good practice to monitor non-threatening letters in case of an escalation to abusive and intimidatory correspondence.

We need to have an informed debate about animal research and testing and while the majority of the public accept the need for properly regulated animal research, the Government recognises that some people believe strongly and sincerely that research and testing using animals should not be allowed.

Nearly all of them make their views known in lawful and peaceful ways. But a small minority of individuals go beyond the law, using threatening and criminal tactics against lawful businesses, employees and their families These tactics – employed against ordinary people – include intimidation outside business premises, death threats, harassment of researchers and their famiies at their homes vandalism of cars and property, false accusations – e.g. of paedophilia – and very occasionally arson and attacks.

People have a right to be free to carry out their lawful business without fear of intimidation and violence, however much that activity is disliked by others. Equally, it is a long-standing tradition in this country that people are free to gather togather and to demonstrate their views provided that they do so within the law. Clearly there is a balance to be struck between protecting the rights of those undertaking lawful activities and the rights of demonstrators and this is the balance which the police will seek to strike within the powers available to them.

The Government welcomes and encourages a debate on the place of animals in research and testing, and engages closely with animal welfare organisations who work within the UK’s democratic model. But the Government will NOT tolerate those who are prepared to use fear and intimidation to try to stop legitimate research and testing activity.

Vernon Coaker

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