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GM protest trio win their appeal

embe | 29.03.2003 08:01 | Bio-technology | Ecology

A LEADING environmentalist has won an appeal against a criminal conviction for his part in a GM crop protest. Mark Ballard, 31, the national secretary of the Scottish Green Party and a Scottish Parliament candidate, was fined £125 after a trial in 2001.

The Crown conceded at the Justiciary Appeal Court in Edinburgh yesterday that the convictions of Mr Ballard and two fellow "eco-warriors", James Mackenzie, 30, and Alan Tolmie, 36, should be quashed.

The trio were found guilty at Edinburgh Sheriff Court of damaging "without reasonable excuse" property at Boghall Farm, Penicuik, Midlothian. Their target had been GM oil-seed rape, but they were tricked by decoy markings in the fields and uprooted conventionally cultivated plants, causing damage of £1.60.

After their victory at the appeal court, Mr Ballard said: "The crux of the case was that we believed we had a ?reasonable excuse? to pull up GM crops. We led evidence that once they flowered, there is a real risk of serious damage to the wider environment. The prosecution failed to lead any evidence in rebuttal."

At the trial, Sheriff Elizabeth Jarvie, QC, had rejected the "reasonable excuse" defence. The appeal court heard no argument on the issue because, at the start of the hearing, the advocate-depute, Graham Bell, QC, said the Crown, without making any concession on the merits of the case, was not seeking to support the convictions.

He said the three men had been prejudiced by a "greatly regrettable" delay in the hearing of the appeal. Mr Bell said the sheriff ought to have prepared a report for the appeal court within 11 weeks, but the matter had "simply drifted" and it took 90 weeks.

He also admitted the Crown "took no active part in finding out what had happened".

Lord Macfadyen, sitting with Lord Carloway and Sir Gerald Gordon, QC, agreed that the convictions should be quashed because of the delay

From The Scotsman Sat 29th March



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