20 November 1997 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Conspiracy to silence dissent

Robert Allen reports on a British court case aimed at suppressing the radical press

Three editors of the English journal Green Anarchist (GA) - Noel Molland, 24, Steve Booth, 38, and Saxon Burchnall-Wood, 24, - have each begun three year sentences in Winchester jail after being convicted of ``conspiracy to incite criminal damage'' following a three month trial costing £2 million. Their real crime was to report news of direct action activity.

A fourth man, Simon Russell, editor of the Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group (ALF SG) newsletter, was found not guilty. Others may face similar charges.

Described as `terrorists' by Judge David Selwood, an ex major general in the British Army, the GANDALF (from GA aND ALF) ) trial is a clear indication that the Westminister administration sees green activists as a serious threat to industry, state and economic stability in Britain.

Selwood said Green Anarchist was ``the most contemptuous document I have ever seen in my entire career'' and said he intends to frame it up for his toilet.

The jail sentences and the continued harrassment of people associated with the GA paper and the ALF movement is the culmination of a five year investigation by the British state. Called Operation Washington it ran from 1991 and saw 55 raids across Britain during 1995 and 1996.

Responding to the charge that they had conspired to incite criminal damage by reporting direct action news or knowing others that had, Robin Webb, one of those originally charged in the GANDALF trial, said: ``So, what I'm charged with in plain English is that, `somewhere in the world over a five year period (they're not sure when) I conspired with people (most of whom I don't know) to incite other people (they don't know who) to commit criminal damage (they don't know what) and that the conspiracy continued into the day after we were charged'.''

In a similar case in 1988 two editors of the ALF support group were jailed for 18 months for reporting acts against animal abuse.

Civil rights groups have claimed that the law under which the defendants were convicted needs to be reformed. John Wadham of Liberty said: ``People should be convicted on the basis of what they've done, not what they've agreed to do.''

Jo Makepeace of SchNEWS - a weekly green social newsletter published in Britain by the Justice group - said: ``This ludicrous sentence is just trying to scare us into silence, but the last thing the defendants would want is for people to stop taking part or writing about direct action. As far as we're concerned, it's business as usual.''

In September more than 300 groups and individuals involved in the alternative press signed a statement about the trial and commented. ``It is vital that the press - alternative, independent, radical, liberal and establishment - unite to defend the basic freedoms under attack in this case: freedom of speech and freedom of the press. It is not for the police to determine the limits of our discussions. It is not the reporting of direct action which incites further direct action; environmental degradation, animal abuse, economic injustice, attacks on freedom, weapons exports, nuclear weapons, lack of democratic process - these, among many others, are the inciting factors.''

Of course none of this is new to Irish republicans. The tactics and the laws employed in this case by the British state are those honed in the 6 Counties over the past three decades, but they appear to have shaken Britain's radical greens who have been persistently accused of naivety in their response to the British establishment.

``This is not just a problem for Green Anarchist alone, it's everybody's problem, because it concerns freedom of speech,'' the September statement ran. ``There is no evidence at all suggesting that any of the defendants were involved in the acts reported, but the prosecution (has said) that people would have been encouraged by the favourable reporting of them. Why is reporting events that have already happened incitement? Some of the news had already been reported in the national press - are they going to find themselves in the dock as well?''

The trial also featured the use of Public Interest Immunity orders (which radical greens in Britain have dubbed `Police Interest Impunity') to suppress evidence of secret state action against Green Anarchist magazine.

The GA editors believe that they were infiltrated by an agent provocateur who encouraged them to write specific articles but the prosecution was not obliged to disclose this evidence so that any agent's future activities would not be compromised.

Nothing changes.


Barry Horne, the animal rights campaigner fingered for the attacks GA supposedly ``incited'', was found guilty last Wednesday of 15 out of 16 charges of arson and recklessness which could endanger life. After the trial, which included ``basically a two-day course in making firebombs'', the jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts despite not a single witness being able to identify Horne as the perpetrator. The charges all relate to the 1994 campaign by the Animal Rights Militia when various animal abusers' premises on the Isle of Wight were attacked, causing £3m damage. Horne gave a clenched-fist salute before he was led away; sentencing is on 5 December.

Prison address of GANDALF 3: Winchester Gaol, Romsey Rd, Winchester, SO22 5DS. Contact Green Anarchist, BM 1715, London WC1N 3XX for more details

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1