Jury retires in animal rights activist's trial

The jury in the trial of an animal rights activist from Northampton, accused of planting home-made petrol bombs at Oxford University, has retired today to consider its verdicts.

Mel Broughton, aged 48, is alleged to have planned and possibly carried out two arson attacks on buildings belonging to the university, as part of a "fierce campaign" against a research laboratory.

Two improvised devices, constructed with fuel and a fuse made from sparklers, exploded at Queen's College sports pavilion in November 2006, causing 14,000 worth of damage.

Two similar bombs were planted underneath a portable building used as an office at Templeton College in February last year, but failed to go off.

A trial at Oxford Crown Court heard that self-proclaimed activist Broughton, of Semilong Road in Semilong, was a single man who had "dedicated his adult life to the issue of animal rights".

He was said to be the leading figure of animal rights group Speak, which was set up in 2004 in protest at plans to build an animal testing research laboratory at Oxford.

He denies conspiracy to commit arson and possession of articles with intent to destroy property.

The court heard he has previously been convicted of conspiracy to cause an explosion to endanger life after police, who had stopped a car he was travelling in, found a bomb in the boot in 1998.

The jury were told a DNA sample found on a matchstick used as part of the fuse in one of the failed Templeton devices was found to be a match to Broughton.

When police arrested him at his home in Northampton in December 2007, they discovered 14 packets of sparklers in an unused water tank in his bathroom.

Also found underneath his carpet was a university employee's security pass and a notebook containing a list of those identified as targets for "direct action".

Broughton told the court he was involved in organising legal demonstrations against the lab and understood why people got involved in taking direct action in support of animal rights.

But he said he was no longer involved in such action himself and denied having anything to do with the bombs.

The trial continues.