One of the United Kingdom’s leading universities has been cleared of charges of animal cruelty at the end of a long-running and contentious series of investigations, an official report has concluded. However, the report found that Imperial College London had a “widespread poor culture of care” in its animal-research labs.
The controversy began in April 2013, when the London-based British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) revealed that it had conducted an undercover investigation in 2012 at Imperial, and alleged that this had uncovered large-scale suffering and breaches of the law.
An official Home Office investigation into the BUAV allegations, the report of which is released today and refers to Imperial only as ‘the Establishment’, concludes: “Overall, the animal rights organisation’s allegations of cruelty at the Establishment have not been substantiated.”
The Home Office report says that more than 180 individual allegations were made, and only five were substantiated. These five led to formal non-compliance cases, resulting in sanctions to eight individuals, including letters of reprimand and further training. However it also says these non-compliances with regulations were “of a persistent nature” and “could broadly be traced back to failing in management structures”.
“It is concluded that there was a widespread poor culture of care,” says the report.
In December 2013, an independent academic review of Imperial’s animal-research culture found serious problems with Imperial’s animal research (see ‘Report slams university’s animal research’).
Earlier this year it emerged that government inspectors had expressed concerns about animal research at Imperial before the BUAV allegations, and the university official responsible for animal research stepped down from that role.
In a statement released today, James Stirling, the university’s provost, said: “We welcome the publication of the report about this extensive Home Office investigation, which shows that the vast majority of the allegations made against Imperial by BUAV have not been substantiated. … We recognise that there have been problems with the culture and management around our animal research. We are sorry for these shortcomings and we have addressed them through considerable efforts and investment in our animal research infrastructure, to improve our culture of care and to ensure that we meet the very highest standards in our animal research.”
In response, BUAV head Michelle Thew said that there was “continuing complacency” at Imperial and that today’s report highlighted the need to reform the government inspection regime.
“Problems identified [by the Home Office] in 2012 were still documented by the subsequent BUAV investigation, with a leisurely inspection regime and mild sanctions such as a requirement for further training failing to breach the wall of indifference,” Thew’s statement said. “The conclusion is that the system is simply inadequate to enforce the standards that it purports to uphold.”