Anti-GM activist found guilty

David Lawrence 18 October 2007

Eco-activist Martin Shaw, 43, has been convicted for criminal damage to a GM test site in Cambridge.

Shaw, of Campbell Road, Oxford, was found guilty of intentionally damaging the security fence of the National Institute of Agriculture and Botany (NIAB) site off Huntingdon Road on July 1st.

The site’s crops were trashed a week later by an anonymous activist team.

Shaw has been involved in the anti-GM movement for the past decade, and has collected two high court injunctions and one criminal damage conviction, overturned on appeal, in the process.

His luck ran out at Cambridge Magistrates Court on Wednesday, as his claim that he had not meant to damage the fence failed to hold up. The three magistrates presiding over the case gave him a £440 fine.

He said that although the magistrates were not actively “hostile” to his cause, he felt “up against a fair amount of prejudice”.

He was forced to defend himself in court, after his legal aid application was refused.

One observer described the proceedings against Shaw as “legally amateurish”. Court advisers to magistrates, who have no legal formal training themselves, scrabbled around looking through relevant papers shortly before the case was due to start.

Shaw himself claimed that his case was more of a “test of public opinion” than anything else, saying that the rulings of previous cases had been ‘political decisions’.

He railed against recent media coverage of GM activists, dismissing reports as “thinly disguised press releases” looking to “soften up a sceptical public” as part of a long term campaign. He criticized the frequent recourse among the media to “simple stereotypes” in their portrayal of activitists.

Shaw remains committed to the fight against all “industrial foods”, which he described as “slow-release poisons force-fed to the public”.

His tirade against all the big “agro-chemical firms” continued, as he accused large companies of acting against farmers’ interests. He said that he would only stop protesting against GM products if an “agricultural and social revolution” were to occur.

He praised the tendency to direct action among the anti-GM movement, claiming that “the only reason we are not surrounded by GM fields is they have all been ripped out of the ground”.

Unrepentant and undeterred by the magistrates’ ruling, he told TCS that it was “very likely” that he would continue to be involved in the direct action movement. Shaw said that he would carry on “cutting up crops” for as long as he could in the future.

David Lawrence