THE ESTABLISHMENT - using the word in its broadest sense - always understood that Huntingdon Life Sciences should be saved, as it finally was over the weekend. National newspapers said so. The Government knew with every fibre of its being, as all its predecessors would have asserted, that the right to undertake lawful business activities should be protected. People-managing City institutions would accept the principle. And finally, Huntingdon's customers - major pharmaceutical companies that are legally required to have their products tested on animals - how could they be other than supportive?
Yet for many months, Huntingdon received no help. Its staff continued to be abused, threatened and assaulted. The local police appeared incapable of maintaining the peace. Government ministers said nothing, did nothing. Royal Bank of Scotland repeatedly gave the company more time to repay its loans but would have put it into receivership this weekend. Other financial institutions involved with the company - Phillips & Drew, WestLB Panmure, HSBC - deserted. Some big customers held back orders.
What is the explanation? I think we need a fuller account than the simple accusation of cowardice. Indeed, I hope those making the charge are sure of their own courage. And certainly it requires courage to stand up to the intimidation routinely practised by animal- rights activists. For their methods resemble those used by Stalin during the Great Terror of the 1930s - punish not just the "guilty" but their families as well. Setting cars on fire, sending bombs through the post, making abusive phone calls to employees' homes - this is terrorism, pure and simple.
Although Phillips & Drew, Panmure and HSBC (the old Midland Bank) have provided no explanation for their actions, one can suppose that it was the fear of intimidation that was uppermost in their minds. Rather than calling them cowards, I want to ask a question. Is it right to subject staff to such a risk without having consulted them about the principles involved and making sure that they are prepared to sustain the pressure? Huntingdon was very marginal business for these financial groups. Employees, therefore, had no economic interest to protect. I would say that their action was understandable.
Can one be equally sympathetic to Royal Bank of Scotland's predicament? It has yet to be proved to me that the bank acted dishonourably. Directors and staff were subjected to terrorist threats and they put up with them. …