Conspiracy to report

BACK in August, twelve people were arrested at a protest against genetically engineered crops near Totnes in Devon. Nothing unusual in that, in itself. But three of them were there with video-cameras to record the event. And those three were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to cause criminal damage. Only one protester has been charged, with over £600,000 worth of "vanilla" criminal damage.

When police raided the home of Ben Edwards, who was filming for the video collective Undercurrents, they found a completed NUJ membership application on his desk. Simon Chapman and the third videographer are understood to have joined the union since.

If the charges are pressed, the three will, as far as the Freelance can tell, be the first journalists to be charged with conspiracy since 1977. Then, Crispin Aubrey and the Duncan Campbell (the freelance, not the Guardian crime editor) were charged with conspiracy to break the Official Secrets Act, alongside ex-soldier John Berry.

Their crime was to reveal the existence of GCHQ Cheltenham. The "ABC trial" became deeply embarrassing for the Labour government of the day.

The three are due in Plymouth for a hearing on 14 January. Ben Chapman still has not had his computer or camera returned.

Nov/Dec 1998
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