Police in Oxford have set up a rapid response telephone system to help construction firms in the city threatened by animal rights extremists, writes Sarah Richardson.

The activists are opposed to the construction of an animal research laboratory for Oxford University.

It is understood that police have given a code word to the companies most at risk to speed up police responses. These include those that are known to be working on university schemes other than the laboratory project. As activists have been unable to discover the identity of contractors working on the laboratory, they have widened their net.

A Thames Valley Police spokesperson declined to comment on specific measures, but said: “There are arrangements in place for the security of people at the university, and any calls received from builders will be taken seriously.”

A police source said: “If there is a long-running issue like this, it is not unusual for us to flag something up in this way to speed up response.”

Any phone calls received from builders would be taken seriously

Thames valley police spokesman

Animal rights activists have been waging a campaign of threats and violence against firms in Oxford throughout this year.

They stepped up their campaign when work resumed on the laboratory project in November last year. This followed 16 months when the project was at a standstill while the university tried to find a replacement for Montpellier, a main contractor that quit after pressure from animal rights groups.

This summer activists attacked Oxford Architects, a practice that has no connection to the animal laboratory but works on other projects for the university. The attack caused thousands of pounds worth of damage.

Two months ago, Mace said it was seeking legal advice after becoming a target for activists. It denied that it was working on the project.