UK Jury Acquits Greenpeace Biotech Crop Protesters

LONDON, United Kingdom, September 20, 2000 (ENS) - Twenty-eight Greenpeace volunteers were today cleared of causing criminal damage to a test crop of genetically modified maize (corn) in eastern England.

The verdict handed down in Norwich Crown Court marks a second failure for state prosecutors after the campaigners were acquitted of theft in April. A charge of criminal damage was retabled after the jury in the first trial failed to reach a verdict.

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Greenpeace activists arrested in Norfolk field. (Photos courtesy Greenpeace)
The two trials were sparked by high profile Greenpeace raids on genetically modified (GM) crop test sites in July last year.

Activists were arrested by police at Lyng, Norfolk on July 26, 1999 as they destroyed and bagged plants in a protest against genetically modified crop field trials authorized across Britain.

Greenpeace was elated and encouraged by today's ruling. Speaking immediately after the verdict, Lord Peter Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said, "We're extremely happy with the verdict which totally vindicates our campaign to prevent genetic pollution of the environment."

"We are delighted that an English jury was convinced that the Greenpeace volunteers were rightly acting to protect property and the environment when they cut down and bagged the crop of GM maize," he told reporters.

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Lord Peter Melchett is executive director of Greenpeace UK
"We now call on government to end the GM farm scale trials before any further genetic pollution of the environment occurs," Sir Peter said.

British farmers, however, expressed "anger and shock" at the development. The National Farmers Union described the verdict as "perverse."

"We find it extraordinary that, even with such clear evidence, a not guilty verdict was reached. This gives the green light to wanton vandalism and trespass," the farmers' group said.

Greenpeace is now expected to seek to have its legal costs, estimated at UKú250,000 (US$353,000), paid by the prosecution service.

The verdict will put more political pressure on the government's controversial program of "farm scale" genetically modified crop trials.

"We will put emphasis on working with local communities to create GM-free zones throughout Britain," Sir Peter said after the activists' first acquittal in April.

Over a thousand GM free zones have been declared in Norfolk - from cottage gardens to large commercial farms. Four farms have withdrawn from the British government's GM field trials program in Norfolk.