'Star Wars' opponents freed from court

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The last of the so-called Greenpeace 17 - activists and journalists arrested in California last summer during a protest against the "Star Wars" missile defence system – walked out of court free yesterday as the presiding judge decided that none of them deserved to go to jail.

The last six defendants who appeared in federal court in Los Angeles, including the British freelance photographer Steve Morgan and his Spanish video colleague Jorge Torres, were either set free unconditionally or given probationary sentences of up to three years. Two others were let go last Friday, the remaining nine were set free in an earlier batch of sentencing hearings in January.

Mr Morgan, 43, was given one year's probation. Mr Torres, who is seeking US citizenship, made a special plea with the judge not to compromise his chances of becoming an American. He was sentenced only to time served for the six days all the defendants spent behind bars immediately after their arrest last July.

Their two cases had raised eyebrows because the two men argued they were not part of the protest at all, merely journalists. The prosecution saw them as protesters.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace staged a protest yesterday aboard a ship carrying timber in the Thames estuary, claiming that illegally logged timber from a threatened rainforest was used by the Government in the £22.6m refurbishment of the Cabinet offices.