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Paul Kelso Thursday September 21, 2000 The Guardian

Greenpeace wins key GM case

Not guilty: Protesters who destroyed crops are cleared

Greenpeace's executive director and 27 other environmental activists were yesterday

cleared of causing criminal damage to a field of genetically modified maize, in a verdict
with profound implications for the future of GM crop trials and direct action. Lord
Melchett and his fellow protesters, 13 of whom also work for Greenpeace, were acquitted at
a retrial at Norwich crown court after claiming they had lawful excuse to attack the crop at
a farm in Lyng, Norfolk, in July 1999. The not guilty verdicts were greeted with cries of
delight and tears from some of the defendants and applause from the gallery. Outside some
defendants were congratulated by jury members.

At the original trial in April the 28 were cleared of theft, but the jury was unable to reach a
verdict on criminal damage charges after seven and a half hours. The defendants, who include a
Baptist minister, a beautician and the caretaker from Greenpeace's London office, were awarded
costs for both trials. The total cost to the crown prosecution service was estimated at £250,000.
Speaking outside the court, Lord Melchett said the verdict sent a clear message to the
government. "The time has come for Mr Blair and the chemical companies to stop growing GM
crops. "We have known for a long time that people don't want to eat GM food; supermarkets
won't sell GM food and now the time has come for people to stop planting GM food." He said
the verdict did not give a green light to other protesters to destroy crops, but refused to rule out
similar action by Greenpeace in the future. "The next step is for the government to take action.
We don't have immediate plans, but if the government don't do anything and the chemical
companies don't stop planting these crops, we won't rule anything out." A spokesman for the
Department of the Environment said the crop trials would continue. "If we halted our strictly
controlled research then there would be widespread GM crop planting without us getting the
evidence we need," he said. "Our top priority is to protect the environment and human health."

Seventy three sites were chosen for crop trials this year and already 12 spring-sown oilseed rape
crops, 12 forage maize crops and 24 beet crops have been harvested. Twenty five sites are being
planted with GM autumn-sown oilseed rape. Under EU law the government has no plans to ban
GM crop planting, but the biochemical companies have agreed to take part in a four-year trial
programme, now in its second year. William Brigham, the farmer on whose land the GM maize
was grown, said the verdict gave "the green light to trespass and the green light to vandalism".
"This attack was a frightening experience for myself and my family," he said. "Greenpeace is a
massive environmental pressure group and we are a small family farm. They used bully boy
tactics to get their point across and today the bully has won." Scimac, the industry body which
represents Aventis, the biotech company which developed the GM maize on Mr Brigham's farm,
also condemned the verdict."This raises concerns that go much deeper than the safety of GM
crops," its chairman, Roger Turner, said. "It raises fundamental questions about the ability of our
legal system to cope with the gradual erosion of respect for public rights and authority. "We are
disappointed that an extreme minority do not have enough confidence in the strength of their
argument to let science decide."

Mike Schwarz, a partner at Bindman and Partners, the solicitors who acted for Greenpeace, said
the verdict was a vindication of the jury system. "Juries understand reasonable citizens' actions.
But to get to juries you have to get past police forces keen to clamp down on protesters and a
CPS which wants to keep these cases in magistrates courts and away from juries."

West Island School – TOK – SJT GM Food – 6b -Science & Responsibility

Paul Kelso Thursday September 21, 2000 The Guardian

The verdict provoked anger from the National Farmers' Union, which described it as "perverse"
and as declaring "open season" on farmland. The NFU's president, Ben Gill, said he would be
writing to the home secretary, Jack Straw, ahead of a planned meeting to discuss the issues raised
by the case. "We find it extraordinary that even with such clear evidence a not-guilty verdict was
reached," he said. "This gives the green light to wanton vandalism and trespass." Peter Tidey,
chief crown prosecutor for Norfolk, defended the decision to bring a retrial. "Criminal damage is
a serious offence and allegations that an offence was premeditated and carried out by a group of
people are taken into consideration when deciding whether to proceed," he said.

The attack on Mr Brigham's crop took place at dawn on the July 26 last year when the 28
protesters, 19 men and nine women aged between 22 and 52, converged on his farm. Dressed in
white overalls with the Greenpeace logo on the back and accompanied by four journalists
including a video cameraman, the group set about removing the entire six and a half acre crop.
They had brought with them a tractor with a cutting device and a tipper truck. "I was there with
the intention of removing the entire crop, of bagging it and returning it to its owners, AgrEvo Ltd
[now Aventis] in King's Lynn," Lord Melchett told the court. The aim of removing the entire
crop was crucial to the defence case. The protesters argued that they had lawful excuse under the
Criminal Damage Act 1971 to uproot the crop, as leaving it to flower and pollinate would have
led to a greater crime - the contamination of other crops in the vicinity. "We are delighted the
jury agreed with us," Lord Melchett said.

Greenpeace targeted the maize on Mr Brigham's land after he gave an interview to the Eastern
Daily Press in which he said he would be growing the crop under contract for AgrEvo. The
publicity prompted villagers in Lyng to hold a public meeting to discuss the crop trial. Mr
Brigham was invited but, on the advice of AgrEvo, did not attend. Following the meeting, Lord
Melchett wrote to him urging him to discontinue the trial. Shortly afterwards the farmer gave an
interview to Farmers Weekly in which he indicated that the maize was due to flower within a
week. This prompted Greenpeace to carry out its action. "That crop, when it flowered, would
release GM material widely," Lord Melchett said. It posed "the most serious environmental
threat... it's alive, so it can't be cleared up like chemical pollution, or even nuclear waste."


1. Why are trials of GM crops needed?

2. Why are trials of GM crops controversial? What are the issues?
3. What was the defence of the protestors?
4. Write a list of the pros and cons of GM crops/research
5. Why do you think so many people in Europe don’t want GM crops?
6. Why do you think so many people in the US don’t mind GM crops and
already eat them so often?
7. What should governments do?
8. What should individuals do?

West Island School – TOK – SJT GM Food – 6b -Science & Responsibility