The piece below first appeared in radical lawyer's journal The Law issue 13 July-September 1998 p.16-17. It provides a summary, while proceedings were ongoing, of the important GANDALF trial, intended, for blatantly political reasons, to crush domestic dissent. Subsequent information emerging from the trial, in the form of mostly unused (i.e. unhelpful to the prosecution) court documents (such as Hepple's supposed Special Branch file), were used by Larry O'Hara & former GANDALF defendant Steve Booth to write a definitive summary of antecedent state operation and ensuing trial, in 'At War With the Universe' 1999 (p.14-28), [still available--visit the shop above, and click on 'other publications']. Mention should be made here of Ken MacDonald QC's disgraceful conduct during the trial. He blatantly refused to argue the previously agreed defence case on behalf of defendant Paul Rogers, whining he would 'get struck off' for referring to agent provocateur Tim Hepple. Thankfully, Rogers stuck to his (metaphorical!) guns, and consequently never served one minute's jail time as the state would not countenance Hepple being in the dock. The venal MacDonald, he later went on to become Director of Public Prosecutions: his less than glittering career was analysed in Notes From the Borderland issue 6 p.60-61.
GAGGED: A CONTEMPORARY VIEW OF THE GANDALF TRIAL by Larry O'Hara
On March 27th this year, accompanied by barely any media publicity, three defendants in the now notorious GANDALF trial were freed on bail pendingtheir appeal, which is due to be heard in mid-June. As a result of the freeing of Steve Booth, Noel Molland and Saxon Wood the trial of theother two defendants: Robin Webb (ALF Press Officer) and Paul Rogers (Green Anarchist editor) has been put on hold pending that appeal. It isjust possible therefore, that by the end of June all of the defendants will be free.
The charges themselves, that the "defendants conspired together (when most of the defendants had not met each other) to incite others to commitCriminal Damage (no specific act of "criminal damage" was proven to be carried out by any of those charged, or linked to them in any specific way) over a five year period,, was ludicrous enough. However, even on these crazy charges the state was eager to secure a conviction. The trial was held at Portsmouth (with a high percentage of armed-forces linked jurors and general conservative mentality), presided over by Justice Selwood, the only serving judge who is also a member of the military! Not only did the judge fail to properly distinguish between arson and the lesser charge of conspiracy to commit criminal damage but he also, after all the four original defendants except Simon Russell had been found guilty, sentenced them to a stiff three years as if they had been found guilty on the more serious charge! That reflects not just his incompetence, but the indecent haste with which the original GANDALF prosecution was thrown together.
While those prosecuted were first arrested in March 1995, the state operation began far earlier, and has at least five strands to it. Firstly, there was the general need for MI5 and Special Branch, post Cold-War, to find new areas to work in. This led to concentration on the two principal targets in the frame currently. One of the strands was Robin Webb, whose calm and rational advocacy of the cause of animal rights and liberation has absolutely infuriated Special Branch. Indeed the degree of hatred felt for Robin Webb has resulted in him being charged with a succession of preposterous crimes, ranging from involvement in 'Poultry Liberation Organisation' (PLO!) activities (because he passed on the contents of an anonymous communique) to a blatant planting of a gun in his car by the police, who later dropped these charges. The attempt to persecute Webb as a visible spokesperson for the animal liberation movement, was a crucial part of the trial, but this was one (important) strand, rather than the whole.
This distinction can be illustrated by the evidence of Detective Superintendent Thomas, in overall charge of the 'Operation Washington', given on the eleventh December 1996 at one of the pre-Committal proceedings. Having has his attention drawn to evidence he gave in anearlier trial of Webb, he agreed that "the secret services... were involved in one part of it which was not significant until after Mr Webb had been arrested that other people hand been arrested". He went on to confirm that "my answer did not refer to those proceedings or to Mr Webb in these proceedings and any other issues relating to the security services, I would ask the Court to deal with by means on public immunity hearing. It related indirectly to those proceedings". What Thomas was saying here, translated into English, is that the secret state ( MI5 rather than Special Branch) were (are) involved, but not in relation to Robin Webb. By a process of elimination, it is obvious that secret state involvement is quite likely to have been relevant to the other set of co-defendants in the trial who are not directly animal liberationists - the Green Anarchists - a further strand.
Which is where I must express a personal interest, for I alerted Green Anarchist to the activities of self-confessed MI5 asset and agent provocateur Tim Hepple as far ago as 1991. It is highly significant that the very first issue where 'Agent Hepple' began writing for Green Anarchist (issue 29/1991) marks the moment when the prosecution regard Green Anarchist as having taken a sinister turn for the worse, thus justifying their inclusion in the trial. The link between Green Anarchist and the Animal Liberation movement, which in reality was (is) merely the commitment of GA to publish the truth about animal liberation 'actions' was one that was crucial to the prosecution case. It was no better put than in the course of a revealing interview (July 1995) with journalist Michael Durham, who tried to get me to agree that "Green Anarchist are just a front for the ALF, aren't they?". Naturally I disagreed. However, it is fascinating to note that not only was Agent Hepple not interviewed by police, but an article he penned for issue 29 seems to back up Durham's case. Hepple called upon readers to "use the ALF as an example of practical and spontaneous opposition to animal abuse. Similar methods and organisation should be utilised for a wider range of activities here and now" (p.11/issue 29, 1991). While articles that might seem to support the prosecution's case such as this, were not used in the trial, a memorandum by Roger Venton, then the CPS Chief Prosecution Solicitor, to the effect that Lancaster Bomber (which defendant Steve Booth produced) and other publications did not incite crimes was ignored! As Judge Selwood put it, "what Roger Venton thought, what his view was, is not actually helpful in the end to you, members of the jury" because Venton had written "a memorandum to himself, for his own purposes" (summing up 5/11/97).
Having mentioned three strands to the the prosecution being brought--MI5/Special Branch 'Job-Seekers Alliance', the demonisation of the ALFand also Green Anarchist, there are two further strands to be elucidated. The first was the Isle of Wight fire 24th August 1994, when incendiary devices left at four shops caused an estimated £2m of damage. The action, attributed to the 'Animal Rights Militia* (Times 25/8/94) made police chiefs and politicians apoplectic with rage, and the message was filtered down to the secret state that somebody had to be made accountable for it.
If the Isle of Wight devices slightly annoyed the political police, the final trigger that probably set in train the arrests of both the Green Anarchist and Animal Rights people involved in the GANDALF case was the protests at Shoreham in early 1995 concerning veal exports. These had the potential of a real mass movement Thus, something had to be done at short notice - hence the concocted catch-all charges that led to the GANDALF trial.
I have drawn attention to the detailed context here because too few other people have. There is a tendency to see such things sometimes in a timeless political vacuum, as if only abstract principles such as free speech were involved. These principles are important, but so too are the activities of shadowy state agencies staffed by real people, with precise agendas. In that respect Operation Washington is significant not jut forits costs (including that of the trial, at least £4m and rising), but because, as Durham admitted to me, it was the first joint operation in England over non-IRA matters to have been carried out by MI5 and Special Branch since 1992.
The solidarity campaign for the GANDALF Defendants has thus far been impressive. Particular mention must go to London Greenpeace, veterans of the McLibel trail, who have provided important logistic backbone to a London Support Campaign. Index on Censorship, to their credit, placed some of the 'offending' articles on their web-site, and a host of individuals and groups up and down the country (as well as abroad, with the coverage in An Phoblacht/Republican News being characteristically insightful) have made a real difference, whether by attending meetings on the Defence Campaign Tour, holding benefits in their localities, or turning up at various protests. See the 'support box' below [NOW REMOVED] if you want to lend a hand.