FIFTEEN animal rights protesters are suing police for up to £250,000 after claiming they were treated illegally during a demonstration outside Oxford University’s honorary degree ceremony.

The claimants, supporters of the Speak campaign group, have filed papers at the High Court claiming “false imprisonment, breach of human rights, malicious prosecution, assault and battery” over the protest in 2006.

On June 21, demonstrators gathered outside Oxford University’s Encaenia Day Ceremony to oppose the building of the animal testing laboratory in South Parks Road.

Fourteen protesters were arrested and charged, but a trial at Bicester Magistrates’ Court in May 2007 cleared them of offences under Section 14 of the Public Order Act. Charges against two others were dropped earlier.

Protester Pauline Brought- on was found guilty of obstructing a police officer, while Fran Cornwell was found guilty of assaulting an officer. Both were given absolute discharges by District Judge Deborah Wright.

During the trial, a tape recording of unguarded comments made by police officers was played to the court in which they used a swear word about the campaigners and said they would “prosecute the s*** out of them”.

In summing up, Ms Wright said: “I find the (Section 14) conditions were imposed unlawfully.

“Whoever was responsible for making the decision that this prosecution should proceed in light of the tape may well have made a serious error of judgement.”

She added: “Although the (taped) conversations were made away from the public, all the officers were on duty.”

Eleven of the 15 people suing police were involved in the case, including Pauline Broughton, the mother of Speak leader Mel Broughton.

Among the claimants in the High Court case are Brett Gordon and Ruth Undy, both of Woodman Court, East Oxford.

The legal papers state Mr Gordon “asked a police officer if he could leave (the demonstration) and meet his wife who had been taken ill earlier in the protest but was told in no uncertain terms that if he did so then he would be arrested.

“He was at the back of the march and was being pushed about aggressively by two police officers and threatened with arrest.”

The group is “claiming damages up to £250,000”.

Mel Broughton was found not guilty by Judge Wright but is not one of the claimants in the writ. He was sentenced to 10 years in February after being convicted of conspiracy to commit arson.

The writ comes just days after Thames Valley Police was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £25,000 costs after call centre worker Keith Tilbury, 51, was shot in the torso by Pc Dave Micklethwaite in Kidlington in May 2007.

Thames Valley Deputy Chief Constable Francis Habgood said the force was aware of the writ, but that it was inappropriate to comment with legal proceedings active.

However, at the time of the collapse of the trial, his predeccessor Alex Marshall said: “There are comments on the tape that I find very regrettable and I find some of the comments unprofessional. I will take careful note of what the judge has said and see if there are any matters which arise from it.”