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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"A case of more than usual significance"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 19 April, 2000, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Jury discharged in GM crop case
Lord Melchett and supporters
Lord Melchett (left) and supporters outside the court
The jury in the trial of 28 Greenpeace protesters accused of damaging genetically modified crops has been discharged after failing to reach a verdict.

Earlier, the jury at Norwich Crown Court decided that the protesters, including Greenpeace director Lord Melchett, were not guilty of theft.

However, after more than a day of deliberation they were still unable to reach a decision on the other charge of criminal damage.

The protesters were accused of attempting to destroy a field of GM maize under cultivation in a government-supervised experiment at Lyng, Norfolk, last July.

This case is not about whether GM crops are a good or a bad thing

Judge David Mellor
Lord Melchett, 52, who farms the 890-acre Courtyard Farm near Hunstanton in Norfolk, and his co-defendants pleaded not guilty to both charges on the grounds of lawful excuse.

They argued that they had a lawful excuse to destroy the crop because they believed that organic crops cultivated nearby were in need of protection.

The 19 men and nine women were arrested where the crops were damaged, all wearing white Greenpeace uniforms, after farmer William Brigham called police.

At the start of the trial, Judge David Mellor told jurors that they should not allow their political leanings to sway their judgment on what was "a matter of major public controversy".

He said: "This is the GM trial - not The Archers' one, the real one.

"This case is not about whether GM crops are a good or a bad thing.

"It is not and cannot be about which side is in the right on one of the great debates of our time.

"Your focus will be much narrower than that in the context of what strives to be a court of justice. It will be for you to listen to the evidence, reach honest conclusions as to the facts and apply to those facts the law."

On arrest several defendants had told police they had acted to prevent the "genetic pollution" of other crops by the GM maize.

'Christian duty'

The court heard that the crop was owned by AgrEvo, now called Aventis, and the demonstrators planned to take the felled maize to the company's headquarters in Kings Lynn, Norfolk.

Another of the 28 accused, Baptist minister Malcolm Carroll, told the hearing he took part in the action out of a sense of Christian duty

But prosecutor John Farmer said: "In growing that crop Mr Brigham and his family were acting perfectly lawfully. All the authority had been given to do it; there was no legal reason why he should not have grown that crop."

Following the jury's dismissal, the prosecution now has until 3 May to decide whether or not to decide on a re-trial.

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