They were the images that shocked even the most hardened of hearts. When the BUAV's investigation uncovered the appalling evidence of animal suffering and poor practice in Imperial College London the public reaction was one of disbelief as much as outrage.
For animal lovers and non animal lovers alike, the cruelty revealed by the BUAV was beyond question. If you can brace yourself to face the videos and watch beyond the warnings of graphic imagery to the graphic imagery of live rats struggling to escape guillotine beheading; animals thrashing around during surgical operations; rodents forced to run to exhaustion by electrocution and squirming baby animals having their necks hacked off with scissors while spine chilling screams of agony pierce the footage the word cruel just isn't cruel enough.
Yet throughout the time this malpractice was taking place animal researchers and their supporters insisted that the UK has the 'highest standards of animal care and welfare' in the world and maintained that 'most animal experiments involve little or no discomfort'. It makes you wonder what they would categorize as 'low' standards or 'severe' suffering.
I'm sure I was taught that science is a precise discipline with consistent and uniformly measurable standards. Yet these people are disgracing themselves and their field by coming out with preposterous declarations of animal welfare standards that, once outed in public, are as wide off the mark as the mouse model they study is biologically off a man. It amounts to misinforming the public about the use of animals in research and the humanity of their treatment.
Gaining public trust on this spiky subject depends on honesty and openness. Hiding behind brazen statements while blocking their corroboration, denying access to experiment information and foiling any attempt to improve transparency is not the way to win it. No wonder that the disillusioned public has lost all trust in the British government and our institutions and who can blame them. This barefaced breach of public confidence and the uncovering of these blood soaked standards may mean we have been let down again but we are still disgusted.
So disgusted that tens of thousands signed a petition requesting an independent inquiry into the 'nightmare world' of appalling suffering and wrong doing for animals. Our Government creaked into its habitual sluggish action, or lack thereof, as any sign of their due report is still pending, and was reluctant to oblige.
What has been published, however, is a report by an independent review set up in the wake of the allegations. It voices 'serious concerns' and identifies a lack of 'adequate operational, leadership, management, training, supervisory and ethical review systems' at Imperial. It recommends 'wholesale reform' of the welfare process and even describes the College's own review body as 'not fit for purpose'.
To continue, the work culture was found to be 'flawed' and 'complacent', and 'procedure' was prioritized over their legal requirements to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in experiments. And to top it all off, researchers were found to have fallen foul of a number of Home Office project licence regulations.
To clarify, here is the foreboding conclusion I uneasily draw from this gory investigation: just about every management area of the University has been assessed as incompetent. Comprehensive improvements are required across the entire board of its animal welfare process. The staff themselves do not recognise animal cruelty when it goes on under their noses; the senior researchers don't recognize animal cruelty under their noses; even the supervisory body is incapable of upholding welfare standards or preventing legal and regulatory breaches running amok The situation is deemed so dire it is beyond improving and requires complete replacement. Do you get the gist now?
Because if you do, the Home Office doesn't. And as if to underline the fact the Government hasn't grasped the gravity of the pitiful situation the Secretary of State still hasn't revoked the institution's Establishment Licence and permits business to continue as usual.
If it takes an undercover investigation, a review by an independent committee of experts, 65,000 signatures on a petition and an ongoing Home Office inquiry to bring these shameful acts of cruelty in one of our most prestigious Universities to light what hope is there for animal welfare standards in laboratories across the country? It's hard to think of a worse omen for animal welfare standards in medical research.