Huntingdon audit saga ends in secrecy

Research laboratory Huntingdon Life Sciences will finally be able to file its
long-awaited accounts at Companies House after the government put forward
legislation to protect the identity of its auditors.

The company law reform bill clause that proposes to identify the senior audit
partner in an audit report was amended to allow some companies to hide the
identity of the audit firm involved altogether.

The clause now states that the auditor’s name need not be given, to do so
‘would create or be likely to create a serious risk that the auditor, the senior
statutory auditor or any other person would be subject to violence or

The inclusion in the bill of this exception is a direct result of the
problems that Huntingdon has faced because of protest action over animal
testing. It has yet to file its 2003 and 2004 accounts at Companies House after
Big Four firm Deloitte abandoned it as a client more than two years ago.

Deloitte stepped down from its position after an intense two-week protest
campaign by animal rights groups Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) and the
Animal Liberation Front. The campaign targeted Huntingdon’s directors and
offices across the UK, and caused criminal damage.

After its success in forcing Deloitte to withdraw, SHAC warned that any other
auditor involved with Huntingdon would also face protest action.

Since Deloitte’s withdrawal, successive trade and industry secretaries have
granted extensions to the deadline for Huntingdon to file its accounts – a
situation that is likely to be sustained until the company law reform bill
becomes law, which will probably happen in the spring of 2007.

It is still uncertain whether the legislation will persuade an auditor to
take on the company as a client. Much of what SHAC learns about Huntingdon’s
suppliers and customers comes from inside information, and some fear that
identifying the company’s auditor may not prove a tough task for activists.

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