THE Government is investigating claims that animals at a Hampshire laboratory are suffering cruel deaths.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) said its footage showed staff at Wickham Laboratories, in Wickham, accidentally breaking the back of mice when trying to kill them with ballpoint pens.

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Official guidelines allow mice to have their necks broken to ensure a quick death, but the secret film allegedly shows some were left writhing after their backs were mistakenly broken.

The BUAV placed an undercover worker at the laboratories for eight months up to the end of October where she filmed thousands of animals being used to test the anti-wrinkle product Dysport.

Technical director Chris Bishop said he was unable to comment on specific allegations due to the ongoing Home Office investigation.

“We are fully committed to animal welfare and will work with the Home Office to ensure that high standards are maintained. We are fully committed to seeking continuous improvement in our operations,” Mr Bishop said.

“Dysport is one of the toxins we test and we work closely with regulatory authorities on the testing methods required. Currently all regulatory authorities worldwide require the LD50 test; at this time there is no satisfactory alternatives to ensure patient safety and efficacy.

“Our laboratory is continuing to work on alternatives to various toxin tests and our staff are actively involved in the European working group reviewing test procedures.”

The BUAV also accused the Home Office of not enforcing the use of non-animal alternatives and of failing to minimise the suffering inflicted on animals.

Sarah Kite, from BUAV, said: “Time and time again the Government and animal research community claim that animals are only used as a last resort for vital medical research and that animal suffering is kept to a minimum.

This BUAV investigation has blown those claims wide open.”

Confirming the inquiry, a Home Office spokesman said: “We take these allegations seriously and are taking urgent steps to look into them further. We authorise animal research only when it can be justified.”