Noel Molland, Paul Rogers, Steven Booth and Saxon Wood, editors of Green Anarchist, go on trial at Portsmouth Crown Court on 26 August in what will be seen by civil liberties campaigners as a test case of the conspiracy law. Charged with them is Simon Russell, a former editor of the Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group newsletter.
The five face charges of conspiracy to incite persons unknown to commit criminal damage, as a result of their reporting of actions carried out by groups such as the Animal Liberation Front. If convicted they could face sentences of up to 10 years.
The "Diary of Animal Liberation", carried by Green Anarchist, is one example of alleged incitement. It lists international actions ranging from the daubing of graffiti and gluing of butchers' locks to "rescuing" animals and setting fire to meat lorries and milk tankers.
Another example is news items about Earth Nights, annual events proposed by the little-known Earth Liberation Front, which urge damage to the property of vivisectors, road builders, biotech companies, the nuclear industry and race hate groups.
Police say the trial follows Operation Washington, a major investigation into the activities of animal liberation groups by Hampshire police.
The defendants' solicitor, Tim Greene, sees the trial as a throwback to earlier "political" trials. "Police are saying the mere listing of offences committed by animal rights activists is illegal, is inciting," he said. "This is a hark back to the way police used to behave, to try and suppress material they didn't like.
"These are not people who are alleged to have done anything - nobody is alleged to have been injured or damaged by anything that these defendants have done. All they've done is print stuff the police disapprove of, or distribute it."
John Wadham, the director of Liberty, formerly the National Council on Civil Liberties, said: "We will be monitoring the trial closely because the use of conspiracy and incitement is something which has concerned Liberty for many years."
Robin Webb, the ALF's press officer, was originally a sixth defendant but the case against him was thrown out after a magistrate called prosecution actions against him "oppressive" and an abuse of process. The trial is expected to last six weeks.Reuse content