Celebrities and campaigners have condemned police returning two beagles who were stolen from a Cambridgeshire research facility.
Downton Abbey star Peter Egan and singer Will Young are among those who have spoken out after Cambridgeshire Police gave the dogs back to MBR Acres in Wyton.
It comes after police officers were called to the facility just before 6am on Tuesday to reports of a break-in and “protesters at the front gates”.
Protest group Animal Rebellion said in a statement that 12 of its supporters got inside the facility at 5.30am and took 18 beagles.
Cambridgeshire Police said on Friday it had returned two dogs – named Love and Libby by campaigners – to MBR Acres after they were recovered by officers.
The force said the Home Office and Animals in Science Regulation Unit supported their return for wellbeing reasons.
However, the move has prompted an outcry from celebrities and campaigners, who called it “horrifying”.
Egan, an actor who has also starred in After Life, said: “Love and Libby represent the hope of all the beagles bred for lab experiments at MBR Acres.
“The hope is that they may, with a degree of compassion from MBR, be allowed a life free from pain and death. We ask them to show some humility and mercy: give them life, set them free to be homed with a loving family.”
Meanwhile, singer Young said he was “shocked” and “disgusted” by MBR Acres’ decision to ask for the beagles back.
“Love and Libby will most likely be put down due to contamination or put down after being taken back in to be tortured through testing,” Young said.
“They were shown freedom and love and now are taken back into the hell hole that is allowed to operate under Home Office regulations.”
Dr Alice Brough, a qualified vet with the Animal Rebellion protest group and director of the Progressive Veterinary Association, also accused the Home Office of seeing nothing wrong with “needlessly torturing animals by the thousands”.
“The fact that the police are citing the dogs’ wellbeing as a reason to return them to a facility appearing to be in breach of welfare regulations, and knowing the unimaginable pain and suffering they will face in a laboratory, is frankly horrifying,” she added.
Cambridgeshire Police said 14 people were arrested earlier this week after the dogs were taken from the research facility.
The force said in a statement on Friday: “We recognise the strong feelings this issue has raised in many people, however, we had no legal justification to retain the dogs and therefore were compelled to return them.”
It said the Home Office confirmed that MBR Acres is a licenced establishment that is compliant with requirements of the Animals Act 1986.
All establishments licensed to breed or supply animals are subject to the full requirements of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act which provides specific and detailed protections for animals used in science— Home Office spokesperson
“The Home Office and its Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU), which administers and enforces the 1986 Act, supported the return of the dogs for their wellbeing,” police added.
MBR Acres said it is “a fully licenced establishment and a lawful breeder of beagle dogs that are specially bred for human and animal research in an environment compliant with our licences”.
A spokesperson previously said in a statement: “We are appalled by these actions. Dogs bred for research need careful rehabilitation not to be harmed by a sudden change to their environment.
“This unlawful extreme action has placed stress on our animals and staff by totally disrupting our daily activity to take care for the welfare of our dogs on site.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “All establishments licensed to breed or supply animals are subject to the full requirements of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act which provides specific and detailed protections for animals used in science.”