A prominent animal rights campaigner is in custody accused of waging an arson and blackmail campaign against Oxford University - believed to be in protest against the university's half-built animal testing laboratory.

If so, Mel Broughton, 47, of protest group Speak, would be the first person to be charged with attacks on the university over the lab.

He is accused of being behind petrol bombs found at a university college and a blaze at a college sports pavilion.

Broughton appeared at Banbury Magistrates' Court today. He did not speak, but smiled and waved at people in the public gallery.

District Judge Brian Loosely remanded him in custody to appear at Oxford Crown Court next Friday.

Broughton, from Northampton, is charged with conspiracy to blackmail, in that he made unwarranted demands to the university with menaces, two charges of possessing an explosive device and two charges of having an article with intent to damage, which the court was told were incendiary devices.

A spokesman for Oxford University said it could not comment on the case as it was a matter for the police, but that it remained committed to building the animal lab.

"The safety of staff, students and others is the number one priority," he added.

In February, two unexploded bombs were found at Templeton College, in Kennington, beneath temporary buildings.

The college was evacuated and an Army bomb disposal unit made the devices safe.

An anonymous posting on the Animal Liberation Front's website claimed it had committed the attacks on the college.

Four large plastic bottles containing yellow-brown liquid, believed to be petrol bombs, were removed by explosives and forensics experts.

In November last year, firefighters were called to deal with a blaze in a sports pavilion at The Queen's College's sports ground, in Abingdon Road.

ALF's website claimed activists placed an incendiary device containing 12 litres of fuel through the roof.

In May, Broughton was one of 14 animal rights campaigners who walked free from court after a judge condemned the police for unlawfully stopping a protest.

The campaigners had refused to move when ordered to by police during a sit-down protest in July last year outside a university Encaenia ceremony.