Sheriffs drop in on Greenpeace protest

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Greenpeace was last night engaged in a fresh legal cat-and-mouse game with Shell over the oil company's attempt to dump the Brent Spar at sea.

In what was described as James Bond-style operation, sheriff officers from Edinburgh abseiled from a helicopter in the Atlantic Ocean before transferring to an inflatable boat in an attempt to deliver a court summons to environmentalists trailing Shell's dumping operation.

In the days of the poll tax, sheriff officers in Scotland achieved legendary status by evading rottweilers while trying to deliver court summonses to non-payers. Yesterday, Greenpeace protesters challenged their resolve in waters 150 miles west of the Outer Hebrides.

On Tuesday, an Edinburgh court ordered that Jonathan Castle - master of the Altair, the yacht being used by Greenpeace to follow the Shell vessels - and Lord Peter Melchett, UK director of Greenpeace, should both appear in court tomorrow to explain an alleged earlier failure to disclose the identities of protesters involved in a three-week sit-in on the Spar. The sit-in, organised by Greenpeace, was protesting at the dumping of the oil buoy.

A Greenpeace spokesman said he could not confirm that sheriff officers were involved in last night's operation. When the yacht was approached the crew was conducting a fire-drill and were washing the decks. "If something had been thrown on to the boat, it might have accidentally been rinsed overboard."

The spokesman said Greenpeace was still "investigating" yesterday's developments.