One of the UK's leading scientific institutions has fallen short of its duty to maintain legal animal welfare standards, according to Government advisers. The Animals in Science Committee (ASC) found a "systematic pattern of infringements" at Imperial College London, which has been accused of allowing animals to suffer needlessly in its laboratories.
In a report to the Home Office, the committee raised doubts about the individual with overall responsibility for animal welfare at Imperial. It recommended that "the minister should consider whether he can consider to have confidence in the current establishment licence holder at Imperial College London retaining this role".
Home Office inspectors had identified evidence of "systematic failings" at Imperial College, in particular "failings of culture and communications" that impeded best practice, said the advisers. Biomedical staff were "insufficiently involved" in procedures and the "post-procedure recovery" of animals.
The report concluded: "The regime at ICL clearly fell short of the standard required by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986." Michelle Thew, chief executive of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), which conducted an undercover investigation at Imperial College, said: "The conclusions of this report will have major ramifications for Imperial College as well as the rest of the research industry. If such criticisms can be levelled at one of the world's leading universities, then it is inevitable that similar issues arise in research establishments all over the country.
"Significantly, only the BUAV investigation accelerated action despite 'a pattern of concerns' having been identified by the Home Office Inspectorate as early as 2012. We now expect strong action to be taken against Imperial College for its failings."
Crime prevention minister Norman Baker said: "I am grateful to the Animals in Science Committee for producing this report. I regard this as a very serious matter and will consider the report carefully. The government will publish its response as soon as possible."
A statement from Imperial College said: "The College offered to meet members of the ASC and is disappointed that the report was published without the committee taking up this invitation or having any direct contact with the college. The establishment licence holder (ELH), who has served in this role since May 2012, has strengthened the college's governance and operational management of animal research. Imperial fully supports his leadership and handling of responsibilities as ELH."
An Imperial College spokesman later added: "The college is surprised that the report does not refer to Imperial's comprehensive action plan for world-class animal research published in January 2014. The college has made substantial progress in implementing changes set out in the plan. These build on the good standards of animal husbandry... and are enabling the college to build a new culture around animal research by establishing and promoting best practice, and taking ethical, welfare and 3Rs issues into account at every level."
Imperial posted a report on Wednesday on "Implementing the College's action plan for world-class animal research".