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The Gandalf Trial by Noel Molland

In the first few minutes of January 17th 1996, just after midnight, I found myself sitting in a stranger's house, talking to two people Robin Webb and Saxon Wood) who I had only just met, but we had all been charged with being involved in a Conspiracy together. Our host had just gone out to pick up three other men. The other three (Simon Russell, Paul Rogers and Stephen Booth) again, were people who I did not know. Once again, they were also people that I was accused of conspiring with. As Robin, Sax and I sat there talking, the door opened and in walked Simon Russell. Upon seeing Robin he said, "You bastard. If you had been found guilty, none of us would be here!" This was said in jest. However; it turned out to be the truth.

Back in the early 1990s an aspiring CD officer, Desmond Thomas, found himself the senior officer in charge of an animal rights investigation concerning an arson attack that had taken place in Hampshire. He had been involved in animal rights investigations before, but this was the very first time that he was the officer in charge of the case. Being keen on promotion, Thomas was enthusiastic about impressing his superiors and catching the activists involved. However, that was not to be the case. The only thing that Thomas was able to find out about the activists was that they were part of a 'group' calling itself the Animal Liberation Front. He discovered this when Robin Webb, the ALF Press Officer, claimed the action to be the work of the ALF.

Over the next few years, Thomas was to be the senior officer in charge of a number of animal rights investigations. Each time he failed to discover who was responsible for the actions. The only lead Thomas ever had was that the actions were always claimed by Robin Webb on behalf of one group or another, be it the ALF or whoever.

This led Thomas to become convinced that Robin Webb was somehow connected with the actions and so he started to investigate Robin Webb personally, trying to find anything to link Robin with any criminal offence. What Thomas was to regard as the breakthrough came when Robin was sent a Press Release by the Poultry Liberation Organisation (PLO) claiming responsibility for an egg contamination in Tesco's supermarket. In his role as ALF Press Officer, Robin passed this Press Release on to the media. Under some obscure law it is illegal to tell the media that food has been contaminated, even if you are merely doing so out of concern for public safety.

In August 1994, the police visited Robin at his home to interview him about the claim and he gave them the phone number of his solicitor and told them to go away. Later that evening the police returned with a search warrant and turned the place over. At that time they told Robin that they would interview him even if they had to arrest him. However, he was not arrested on that occasion.

In November 1994, Robin was arrested at Cambridge police station by Hampshire police when he went in to sign on for bail for other reasons. Robin made no reply to police questions and was released on bail. As well as arresting Robin for the PLO claim, Thomas also arrested two other people who he believed had produced the Press Release. They were Gillian Peachey and Jeanette McClunan. Over time the case against both Jeanette and later Gillian was dropped leaving the police with Robin.

When Robin replied to bail in January 1995 the police arrested him again and searched his house and then took him off to Winchester where he was charged and remanded to prison. During the weekend at the police station it was DS Betts who told Robin that "We are going to lock you up to shut you up".

On Robin's first couple of appearances at the magistrates court DC Thomas ignored the actual charges and invoked "arson, incitement, conspiracy and parcel bombs", linked him with the IRA and described Robin as the "Gerry Adams of the animal liberation movement". Robin was to spend nearly seven months in custody. The reason Thomas gave the court for not allowing Robin bail was that, should he be released he would incite people to commit criminal damage and conspire with others to commit criminal damage.

After almost seven months of bail applications being turned down on these grounds, Robin's legal team told the police they should either charge him with Incitement/Conspiracy to Incite or let him go. It was the Crown Prosecutor who told a High Court judge he would not be charging Robin with Incitement/Conspiracy to Incite with the evidence he had and so Robin was released on bail. At the contamination trial, just a few days before it began, the original Crown Court judge was replaced for unspecified "security reasons". At the end of the prosecution case, but following a submission from his barrister, the judge instructed the jury to find Robin not guilty.

The fact that Robin had been cleared of the PLO claim led DC Thomas to develop an almost fanatical hatred of Robin Webb and was determined not to be beaten. In the run up to the PLO egg contamination claim trial, Thomas had launched a major investigation to find evidence that Robin Webb had incited people to commit criminal damage and had conspired with others to incite criminal damage. Once again, Thomas regarded what he saw as a breakthrough the discovery of a magazine called 'Green Anarchist' which was reporting a regular Diary of Animal Liberation actions. These diaries contained long listings of ALF and similar groups actions from around the world. Green Anarchist magazine was also, through its mall order department, openly selling copies of publications such as 'Into the 1990s with the Animal Liberation Front', 'Interviews with ALF activists', 'Going Underground for Animal Liberation', etc., etc. Thomas realised that here was a magazine that he could possibly prosecute for Conspiracy to Incite Persons Unknown to Commit Criminal Damage. All he needed to do was find a way to link Robin Webb with the magazine and he could have his arch-nemesis jailed. And so started what turned out to be nearly a year-long investigation with fifty-five raids against various addresses, property seized, etc. Things didn't look promising.

I do not wish to talk about the others, but in my own case Thomas discovered that I was the person who compiled the Diary of Animal Liberation. I had a number of international animal rights contacts, some of whom I was supplying Black Widow slingshots to where such items are banned in their own countries. There was also evidence to show that I was very involved with the animal liberation movement and I supplied animal liberation information to a large number of magazines across the world. The police also had a theory that I was actively engaged in both Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front activity and were subsequently investigating me for, amongst other things, an attempted arson in Cornwall, a bomb hoax in Plymouth, involvement with tree-spiking and a plan to scuttle live animal export ferries Sea Shepherd style, etc.

However, despite all these investigations (and despite arresting me for an alleged bomb hoax and despite telling the media they had foiled an attempt to scuttle ferries by "animal rights extremists") they could not find any firm evidence of illegal activity. The police also passed on the names and addresses of my overseas contacts to the police forces in those other countries. I don't know how much info was exchanged but certainly by the time a friend in New Zealand, Mark Eden, was arrested for Animal Liberation Front activity, a New Zealand newspaper reported that the NZ and UK police were exchanging a fair amount of information.

There is one thing to note about international policing operations. Whilst Hampshire CID were investigating and trying to stop the reporting of Animal Liberation activity in this country, so similar events were taking place across Europe and Scandinavia. A German animal liberation magazine was raided alter it reported the events around two high profile animal liberation arsons. A Dutch magazine was raided alter it published a press release by the Earth Liberation Front claiming responsibility for a bomb exploding inside an empty building owned by a company involved with the dumping of toxic waste. The Finnish Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group was actually forced to close down for a while alter the Finnish police used two high profile EVR (Finnish ALF) arsons as their excuse to harass known animal liberation activists. There does seem to be evidence to suggest that the criminalising of the reporting of Animal/Earth liberation direct action was not just limited to Britain and may have been part of a wider European policing operation. Whilst on that subject, Hampshire police actually took a publicly-funded trip to Italy just to speak to someone who wrote Robin Webb a letter!

Despite everything, the police could not prove their was any agreement to incite persons unknown to commit criminal damage. There wasn't even any evidence to suggest the people involved with Green Anarchist actually ever met others involved with the magazine. For example, in my own case, I was only concerned with the Animal Liberation news, the prisoner news and later on the EcoDefence news. I would compile all of the information together, relating to those issues and every three months or so I would post it off to a Box address in Oxford. Before the arrest I never met anyone else connected to Green Anarchist magazine. Therefore, because links were so vague, the police decided they would leave Green Anarchist and see what was going to happen with the PLO trial.

Three days alter the PLO trial was thrown out of court, Hampshire police decided they would prosecute Robin Webb, Simon Russell and four other people identified as being linked with Green Anarchist. On the 16th January 1996 the police launched a series of dawn raids which resulted in the people who would later be known as the Gandalf Six being arrested. The reasons why we were each selected became clear as the case went ahead. Robin Webb was the main target of the police and the one they most wanted to jail. I compiled the Diary of Animal Liberation. The police hoped that through the Diary they would be able to link Robin Webb to Green Anarchist magazine. Paul Rogers is the Editor of Green Anarchist and therefore, under the law, he is ultimately responsible for everything it publishes and advertises. Saxon Wood ran the Green Anarchist mail order and distributed copies of 'Into the 1990s', etc. Stephen Booth was in charge of the accounts for Green Anarchist. He also organised subscriptions, etc. Simon Russell had links with Robin Webb, but they knew each other several years before this case was brought. As Editor of the ALFSG Newsletter, Simon was in contact with Robin Webb with regards to the ALF Press Office. I, on the other hand, was writing a book about the animal liberation movement and I had been in contact with Simon regarding its possible publication. The only contact I had with Robin was that I had written a few letters of support to him while he was in prison. Robin had also provided Green Anarchist with a listing of Justice Department actions alter I had requested them but that was all. The police hoped that Simon would act as a bridge between Robin Webb and myself

A major setback for the police occurred in December 1996, when at the committal hearing, the defence mentioned the fact that Thomas had said that, with the evidence he had on Robin, he would not charge him with either incitement or conspiracy to incite. The defence was able to show that the police really didn't have any substantial new evidence and so the case against Robin was thrown out. Sadly, the rest of us were committed for trial.

Whilst the committal was taking place, Hampshire CD were raiding and arresting more people. There is evidence to suggest that had the Gandalf case been thrown out at committal the police were all prepared to have yet another go at prosecuting Robin Webb and others.

However, rather than the whole case being thrown out, just the case against Robin was thrown out because the police had abused the process of law by bringing about this prosecution. This left the Prosecution without their star defendant. So, rather than accepting the legal ruling that just prosecuting Robin Webb on the whim of one senior police officer was an abuse of the legal system, the Prosecution instantly announced it would appeal the Magistrates ruling. The rest of us prepared for trial.

And so, on the 26th August 1997, the trial started. On the very first day of the trial, the Judge and the Prosecution had a meeting behind closed doors to discuss Public Interest Immunity certificates, i.e. what evidence should not be made available to the defence. Also within a few weeks Paul Rogers had a disagreement with his barrister which finally resulted in the barrister being forced to resign as Paul refused to talk to him. Paul was subsequently severed from the trial to enable him to find new legal representation to stand trial at a later date.

Without going into all the details (it did last 12 weeks alter all) the trial was a farce; aspects of the trial including the Judge (Judge Selwood) very quickly nnking his own bias known by helping the police when they were being cross-examined and correcting them when they contradicted themselves. Selwood failed to exclude a juror who admitted he knew an animal abuser who had been the target of an ALF arson attack and the details of which were in the evidence. At the start of the trial the Defence asked that jurors be excluded if they had links with the military. Not only did Selwood fail to do this, he himself had held the rank of Major General and had spent all but five years of his career officiating over military courts with NATO. Selwood also disallowed the Defence to ask all their questions and one barrister was forced to threaten to resign before he was allowed to continue with his line of questioning. Selwood disallowed certain evidence (e.g. the stuff relating to my slingshot exports) only to try and reverse his decision later on, alter the defence campaign was all worked out.

During the summing up Selwood was clearly drunk on one occasion and he muddled up the defendants' names. And in both the cross-examination of defendants and his summing up, Selwood acted as second prosecutor, raising the attention of the jury to matters not picked up on by the Prosecution. The police were no better. During the trial they tried to claim that Simon had incited people to carry out ALF activity by offering to support prisoners financially through the ALF Supporters Group (something that Selwood did reject!).

A senior police officer also, whilst on oath, when referring to a piece of Arkangel headed notepaper that had been signed Robin, deliberately tried to mislead the court into thinking the Robin was intact Robin Webb. This was despite the fact the police were well aware of who the other Robin is and the fact the two Robins' handwriting are totally different. The only excuse the officer could give for his mistake was the way the name Robin was spelt, which in both cases was the same! And just to add an international political basis to the trial, one of the main pieces of evidence relied upon by the police against Simon Russell was a list of Justice Department actions that appeared on the Internet. This list of actions was actually put on the Internet by former Canadian ALF activist, Darren Thurston. Darren agreed to fly to the UK to testily to this effect. However, on arrival at Heathrow, Darren was immediately deported as an undesirable alien, on advice received from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This was despite the fact Immigration knew Darren was to appear as a Defence witness in what was turning out to be quite a complicated trial. The person who went to meet Darren at the airport was Simon Russell. Simon was greeted by Immigration and Special Branch officers who detained him all day asking him various questions about Darren.

As for the arguments of the case. The police tried very hard to create a smokescreen with regards to the distribution of copies of 'Into the 1990s with the ALF'. However, their real objection was the reporting of Animal Liberation Front actions. At a previous trial in Cardiff in 1988, two defendants, Sally Carr and Robin Lane, were prosecuted for Conspiracy to Incite Others to Commit Criminal Damage and were sentenced to 18 months imprisonment with nine months suspended. It was clear that throughout the Cardiff proceedings, the main objection was that of reporting ALF actions by way of the 'Diary of Actions' and the 'Action Reports'.

To state the arguments that the police used against me; because I support the ALF, I, therefore wish for ALF actions to occur. I, then, regard lists of ALF actions to be "good news" (this was an expression frequently used by the prosecution). Therefore, because I want ALF actions to occur and because I regard lists of ALF actions to be "good news", if I compile any lists of actions it is to incite further actions. Or to put it another way, because I support the ALF it is illegal for me to report their actions.

However, the police still had one point to try and prove an actual Conspiracy to Incite. Here the Prosecution had to admit there was no such formal agreement to incite persons unknown to commit criminal damage. However, they said that the word Conspiracy did not automatically mean an actual firm agreement. You could have an implied conspiracy, where although there wasn't any firm agreement, people just knew they were agreeing with others to do something illegal. Again using myself as an example (because I refuse to claim to speak on behalf of others) I compile lists of ALF actions. This the police say can only be to incite others. I also know that other people are doing things the police claim incite ALF actions. Therefore because I am doing something the police say is illegal and because I know that other people are doing something that the police say is also illegal and because the 'illegal' actions are similar, I must therefore be involved in a Conspiracy with these other people. It is an 'implied conspiracy'. The Prosecution was most clear that you do not need to ever have met or communicated with the other people you are in an implied conspiracy with. All you need to do is know that someone, somewhere, is doing similar things to yourself

The end result of this playing with words, was that Simon Russell was found Not Guilty. Sax, Steve and I were all found Guilty of being involved in a Conspiracy to Incite

Persons Unknown to Commit Criminal Damage (along with Robin Webb who wasn't even on trial). This was despite the fact that we have nothing in common and prior to our arrests we did not even know each other. I am a vegan Animal Liberation activist who has become inspired by Deep Ecology. Saxon is a vegan 'Straightedge' environmental anarchist activist whose main interest is punk music. Steve is a meat-eating anarchist who is neither into Animal Liberation nor environmentalism and whose priorities lay squarely with human liberation. We have nothing in common and share no common agenda, yet we were found guilty of being in an implied conspiracy together.

Alter we were found Guilty; initially the Judge said he wanted to give us four years imprisonment. However, alter hearing submissions from our barristers about what nice people we all are, the Judge decided to 'only' give us three years each. But don't think this is the end of the Gandalf Trial. As a result of a Judicial Review in the High Court (incidentally, one of the presiding Judges was the one who gave Keith Mann his original 14 years imprisonment!) Robin Webb will, along with Paul Rogers, stand trial for Conspiracy to Incite Persons Unknown to Commit Criminal Damage, sometime during 1998.

A great deal of publicity has been given to this trial, mainly due to the excellent hard work of the Gandalf Defendants' Campaign (or Neil Hansen as he is otherwise known). People are saying that the result of this trial is terrible. Well yes, it is bad that the Animal Liberation movement is being told that we can't disseminate our own information. But what is worse is the abuse of animals. As a prisoner I will not be cut open, electrocuted, crushed, radiated, poisoned, chased to exhaustion, ripped apart by dogs. I will not be hooked, beaten, kept cramped up in the dark unable to move. I will not be tortured, etc., etc. - unlike all the millions of animals that are being subjected to such horrors as you read this article.

The best support anyone can give is not to sit around saying "shame" but to get up and get active. Redouble your efforts to end the horrors that animal abuse entails. The animals are dying now.

From Arkangel # 19.

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