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The BBC's George Eykyn
"At least 10 GM sites have been vandalised this year"
 real 56k

National Farmers Union spokesman, Ian Gardner
"Britain's farmers will be shocked and appalled by this perverse verdict"
 real 28k

Hertfordshire farmer, Bob Fiddaman
"We are legally allowed to grow the crops"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 20 September, 2000, 23:30 GMT 00:30 UK
GM crop trials to continue
Greenpeace welcome the not guilty verdicts
Lord Melchett celebrates outside court with supporters
The government is insisting its programme of genetically modified crop trials will continue despite a court victory for environmental campaigners who damaged a field of GM maize in Norfolk.

But farmers are worried that the verdict will give the green light to wanton vandalism and trespass.

A jury found Greenpeace executive director Lord Peter Melchett and 27 environmental activists not guilty of causing criminal damage.

The defendants admitted destroying a six-and-a-half acre field of genetically modified maize in July 1999, Norwich Crown Court heard during the two-week trial.

The campaign group which destroyed the crop said they were acting to prevent neighbouring property - organic crops and gardens - being damaged by genetically modified pollen.

Lord Melchett
Lord Melchett: arrested

Environment Minister Michael Meacher said the government respected the court's decision, but that there was no question of abandoning the trials.

Asked by BBC News 24 after the verdict if he would consider destroying other crops, Lord Melchett said: "We have no immediate plans to take further action.

"Now is the time for the chemical companies and Blair to act. If they don't, we do not rule anything out."

But Mr Meacher said that if the government stopped its GM trials programme, it would not have the effect that Lord Melchett wanted.

It would lead to the biotech companies "flooding the country with GM crops", he told BBC Two's Newsnight.

He said the only reason this did not happen was because the government had an agreement with the industry that they would not plant GM crops until four-year trials had been carried out.

Protesters attacking GM crops before arrest
More protests have not been ruled out

The destroyed maize was being grown at Walnut Tree Farm, Lyng, near Dereham, Norfolk as part of an experiment being conducted by multinational agrochemical company AgrEvo, now called Aventis.

Lord Melchett, 52, who farms the 890-acre Courtyard Farm near Hunstanton in Norfolk, and his 27 co-defendants planned to take the felled maize to the company's headquarters in Kings Lynn, Norfolk.

But they were arrested as they carried out the dawn raid on the crops, after farmer William Brigham called police.

'Threat and intimidation'

Mr Brigham said he was angry at Wednesday's verdict, which he found "incredible".

"Frankly I'm not going to give way to this sort of threat and intimidation," he said.

Ian Gardner, of the National Farmers' Union, said: "The danger is it unleashes mob rule.

"It's an extraordinary position - a bunch of people can appear on the farm and tear its crops up and claim immediate necessity.

"They've known that that crop was going to flower for months, they could have sought legal remedies before that."

The 28 defendants were cleared of stealing the genetically modified maize by a different jury at Norwich Crown Court in April.

But after more than a day of deliberation that jury was unable to reach a decision on the additional charge of criminal damage, and the Crown Prosecution Service asked for a re-trial.

Judge David Mellor ruled on Wednesday that the prosecution should foot all costs of both trials.

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20 Sep 00 | UK
GM protesters cleared
20 Sep 00 | UK
The tale of two trials
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