Further cases 'to be treated on merit'

GM activists or other protesters planning to use yesterday's verdict at Norwich Crown Court to launch similar campaigns involving damage to property were warned that each case would be treated on its merits.

GM activists or other protesters planning to use yesterday's verdict at Norwich Crown Court to launch similar campaigns involving damage to property were warned that each case would be treated on its merits.

Lawyers said that the defence, known as "the Tommy Archer defence" because it was successfully used by a character in the Radio 4 soap, relied on the jury accepting that the defendant genuinely believed that the action would prevent greater damage being done.

Lord Melchett, executive director of the environmental campaign group Greenpeace, who was acquitted of criminal damage, told the court he believed the genetic modification of crops was one of the "most frightening things he had ever come across".

Malcolm Fowler, chairman of the Law Society's criminal law committee, said this was a "subjective test". He said if further evidence came to light that showed other defendants could not reasonably hold this view then they might find the jury was less sympathetic.

He said the case was one of "life imitating art" as the Law Society had advised scriptwriters of The Archers on the defence mounted by Tommy Archer when he admitted damaging a GM crop.

Peter Tidey, chief Crown prosecutor for Norfolk, said after the verdict: "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 prosecute."

He added: "Each case is unique and we will continue to review each case on its merits and according to the code for Crown prosecutors, which says there must be sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction."

In a separate case yesterday two nuclear protesters in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, were found not guilty of criminal damage by a jury.

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