Animal rights protestor found guilty of Oxford arson plot

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

An animal rights protestor who left home-made petrol bombs at buildings of the University of Oxford has been jailed for ten years. Mel Broughton, a prominent member of the campaign group SPEAK, had denied the charges of conspiracy to commit arson and possession of an article with intent to destroy property, but the jury at Oxford Crown Court found him guilty by unanimous verdict after deliberating for over five hours.

Broughton made his devices using water bottles and sparklers. He put one on the roof of a cricket pavilion belonging to The Queen's College in November 2006, and two under a portable cabin at Templeton College in February 2007. The device at the cricket pavilion, which contained twelve litres of petrol, went off and caused about £14,000 of damage. The Templeton College petrol bombs, together containing nine litres of petrol, did not ignite, and DNA on one of them linked Broughton to the attacks. He was protesting about the university's decision to back the construction of an animal research laboratory, and a police search of his home found more sparklers, as well as documents about the university and its staff.

File photograph of Oxford Crown Court
Image: Claire Ward.

This was the second time that Broughton had been convicted of the offences: his conviction in February 2009 was overturned by the Court of Appeal and a re-trial was ordered. This began on June 16, and ended on Tuesday with Broughton's conviction. Judge Patrick Eccles QC imposed a ten-year prison sentence, which will be reduced by two and a half years for the time that Broughton has already served in custody. When sentencing Broughton after the first trial, Judge Eccles said that these events "were part of a ruthless conspiracy to instil fear in all those connected to the laboratory."

An officer from Thames Valley Police, Detective Superintendent Mark Jones, said that Broughton "was someone who believes direct action, in the form of planting explosives and setting fires, is acceptable", adding that the conviction was the "right result". A university spokesperson said that it "accepted the rights of protestors to voice their objections within the law", but would work "to protect staff and students from criminal activity of any kind."