Newcastle University loses in animal test data dispute

A NORTH East university has been ordered to release data on controversial animal testing after a long-running court row.

A NORTH East university has been ordered to release data on controversial animal testing after a long-running court row.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) launched action after a failed Freedom of Information request on experiments at Newcastle University.

The BUAV asked the university’s medical research department for details on testing procedures and welfare controls for experiments on primates in 2008.

Almost 21,000 animals were used in medical experiments at the university that year, including Macaque monkeys for examining new treatments for Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and spinal conditions.

The BUAV claims the tests, which involved implanting electrodes into the animals’ brains to record activity while they underwent various tasks, were “highly invasive” and would have caused “a high level of distress”.

But university bosses rejected the request for information, claiming the institution did not hold the information asked for and sensitive research programmes would be endangered if details were released before work was completed.

They argued research data remained the “intellectual property” of individual scientists and not the university until work was finished and published in UK medical journals.

Yesterday, a tribunal in London rejected the university’s claim that disclosure would endanger its staff or prejudice commercial interests.

The Government’s Freedom of Information Commissioner initially agreed with the university’s stance but BUAV leaders appealed the decision.

Last year, the Information Tribunal found it would be “remarkable if the university did not hold important information about extensive animal research carried out on its premises by its employees”.

Now the tribunal has upheld the ruling, meaning the university could be forced to reveal the data.

Michelle Thew, BUAV chief executive, said: “We are delighted with this ruling. Once again, the courts have dismissed Newcastle’s attempts to hide the truth.

“For well over three years, Newcastle University has tried every which way to avoid providing us with information. These are highly controversial and invasive experiments carried out on monkeys at a public institution.

“The public has a right to know what is happening to these poor animals and why.”

A spokesman for Newcastle University said: “The first tier tribunal has confirmed the university should not release the full project licenses as requested by BUAV.

“A separate Court of Appeal will now rule on whether the licenses can be released at all since, under the Animal Scientific Procedures Act, it is an offence to do so.”

A Court of Appeal hearing in the new year will rule whether the university must finally disclose the information requested by BUAV.

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