Sparklers and plan of laboratory found in flat

A jury in the trial of a Northampton animal rights activist accused of plotting attacks on Oxford University buildings has begun considering its verdict.

Mel Broughton, who denies conspiracy to commit arson, possession of an article with intent to destroy or damage property and keeping an explosive substance with intent, told Oxford Crown Court he understood why people took direct action to support animal rights, but did not encourage such action.

The 48-year-old landscape gardener said: "I can understand why people take direct action for animals. As someone who once felt like that, and did that, it would be hypocritical for me to say I do not understand those motivations — but that is not to say I encourage it."

Oxford Crown Court heard Broughton had hidden 14 packets of sparklers, a battery connector, a university security pass and a plan of the laboratory in his flat in Semilong Road, Northampton.

Broughton told the court he was involved in organising legal demonstrations against Oxford University's animal laboratory in South Parks Road, which is still under construction, and had hidden the items because he was concerned they would be misinterpreted by the police.

He said: "I was very mindful of the amount of pressure I was under as a high-profile spokesman of the campaign. I fully accept it was not the most rational thing to do."

The jury heard Broughton had hand-written lists detailing registration numbers of vehicles entering and leaving the site, which he said was for legal demonstrations, and the home address of Oxford neurosurgeon Tipu Aziz, who has publicly defended the use of primates in medical research. Broughton said he had been given his address by a campaigner, but did not intend to use it for illegal purposes.

Earlier in the trial, the jury heard two separate quantities of cellular material, alleged to be from Broughton, were found on unexploded bombs beneath a portable building at Templeton College, in Kennington, last February – one on a match used as a fuse and the other on a bottle top.

Broughton is also accused of carrying out an arson at Queen's College sports pavilion, off Abingdon Road, Oxford, in November 2006, which caused 14,000 of damage. The case continues.