The PlymouthCrown Court hearing of 29th March 1999

RE: The removal of genetically modified maize from a site at
Dartington, Totnes, Devon
by Jackie and Elizabeth.


The barrister for the prosecution was first to give evidence that there would be no case to answer for the defendants. He had been instructed by the Attorney General to drop the case.

Although he fluffed up the arguments with irrelevant excuses and stated that this did not set a precedent, he stated categorically that it was decided by the crown that it was highly unlikely that a jury would convict the defendants.

The defence was in two parts

a) that there was an immediate need to take action and
b) that there was a real danger to
  i) local organic business due to the possibility of cross pollination
  ii) further contamination to a wider environment, which theoretically is unstoppable and
  iii) that there would be gene transfer between species, creating even more unpredictable impacts on the biosphere.

With the understanding that the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, the burden of argument is upon the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defence arguments are flawed.

In the case of the immediate need to take physical action, the prosecution admitted that it would be impossible to argue that the maize was not about to pollinate and so they would not succeed on opposing that argument.

In the second head of argument the prosecution likewise saw no possibility of presenting any argument against the assertion that there is a real danger as laid out by the defendants.

 

Specifically the prosecution noted that

a) the government themselves are calling a moratorium because of the perceived dangers and
b) that a company had recently been fined 17, 000 for endangering the environment.

With this in mind the prosecution had little chance of presenting any sensible argument to counter the defendants defence.

 

As I said there was a bit of fluff added to deflect they embarrassment. Which went something like this:-

The prosecution claimed that they didn’t know what they would be argueing againstl, as the defendants hadn’t given any indication of their case until Nov/Dec 1998. This was countered as wholly inaccurate by one of the defence barristers who informed the Judge that there had been the hearing in Totnes Magistrate’s Court, the proceeding August, whereat the defence was clearly laid before the courts.

Secondly the prosecution played down the seriousness of the case, as an influence on the decision to drop the case. The seriousness was measured in coin of the realm, initially at 605,000 or thereabouts. Then much to the astonishment of everyone the seriousness was valued at only 5000 damage. The defence and the public gallery ridiculed this. This was not the end of the matter, as in order to remove themselves from more embarrassment, or maybe just to get the facts right, for a change, the prosecuting solicitor ended his arguments by saying he had now been instructed to say the damage was more serious than he had just led the court to believe and was now estimated at 44,000. Well who knows?