An animal rights activist standing for parliament in Oxford West and Abingdon has spent seven years in prison for arson attacks, we can reveal.

Keith Mann, who once escaped police custody before going on the run, is representing the Animal Protection Party.

The 43-year-old last night defended his right to stand despite serving time for setting fire to lorries and possessing explosives in connection with protests against testing on animals.

He is campaigning against Oxford’s bio-medical science laboratory, in South Parks Road, and Lib Dem candidate Dr Evan Harris’s support for the experiments.

But father-of-one Mr Mann said his aim was to now influence Government policy through legal channels.

He said: “In the past I have broken the law. But I would not encourage anyone to do that now, although I can understand why people resort to crime when the Government puts restrictions on things like the right to protest.”

Last night Dr Harris, who has been labelled ‘Dr Death’ on Mr Mann’s website, said he had asked police for advice on safety before a hustings meeting on Thursday at Abbey Hall, Guildhall, Abingdon, starting at 7.30pm.

Mr Mann was arrested in 1991 after carrying out a series of fire attacks on slaughterhouse lorries in Oldham.

He was convicted of the attacks in 1994 and was sentenced to 14 years, later reduced to 11 on appeal, and eventually served seven years.

The 21 offences included arson and possessing explosives, as well as escaping from custody by scaling a 15ft wall while on remand at Stretford Police Station, in Manchester.

He was recaptured ten months later at an East Sussex animal sanctuary, where he had been working under an assumed name.

The owner, model Celia Hammond, was unaware of his past.

In 2005, Mr Mann was found guilty of organising a raid on Hampshire’s Wickham Laboratories in 2003, which led to 695 mice being stolen.

And, after receiving a 230-hour community punishment order, he was jailed for six months for contempt of court after a verbal threat aimed at the laboratory’s director while leaving court.

In UK law, only a person serving a prison sentence is not allowed to stand for Parliament.

Mr Mann said: “This is the first time I have stood for election and I believe I can make changes to policies on animal testing through legal means. I cannot wait to get the chance to take part in hustings and take on Evan Harris.

“I have not been in Abingdon yet, although I was once held in cells in Oxford, and I have been campaigning in Oxford where people have been very receptive.”

Dr Harris said: “I recognise and accept the need for carefully regulated use of animals for medical research.

“Obviously, not everyone agrees with that and they are entitled to vote for Mr Mann and disagree with me. I have seen his personal attacks against me online and I don’t think there’s any place for that in British politics.”

He added: “I have asked police for safety advice regarding Mr Mann.”

It is the first election the Animal Protection Party has fought and the party is also fielding candidates in Huntingdon, Vauxhall and Meon Valley.

Thames Valley Police spokesman Rebecca Webber said: “We are aware of Dr Harris’s concerns regarding a candidate standing against him.

“We will be discussing the matter further with him and offering advice over the next week and will then make a decision on whether any further police involvement is necessary.”