Thought Police imprison Green Anarchists in the UK
The case of the "Gandalf Six" has enormous implications for those engaged in direct action, and for those giving favourable coverage to such actions. I think it's fair to say that the Gandalf trial was not just engineered to convict and imprison six assorted editors, activists and spokespeople. It was also intended to intimidate the wider movements in which they work - primarily the animal liberation movement but also the environmental direct action movement. Obviously, the intimidation also extends to the peace movement and any other struggles using direct action, nonviolent or otherwise. We are concerned, and we are meant to be worried.
The Very Short Story
The "Gandalf Six" were all arrested in January 1996 as a result of a massive police operation entitled "Operation Washington". All six were charged with "conspiracy to incite persons unknown to commit criminal damage". Several of the defendants had never met before, and some of them had very tenuous connections.
The six were: Paul Rogers, Stephen Booth, Noel Molland and Saxon Woods - editors, contributors and distributors of, to and for Green Anarchist (GA); Robin Webb, press spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Front (ALF); and Simon Russel, editor of the Animal Liberation Front Support Group (ALFSG) newsletter. Hence the name, Gandalf (GAandALF).
The charges against Robin Webb were dropped before the trial, on the grounds that some of the evidence relating to him had been used against him in a previous case (the 1995 Winchester egg contamination trial). The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are appealing this decision, and Robin might have to face a trial sometime in 1998.
The trial of the "Gandalf Five" began on August 26th 1997 at Portsmouth Crown Court before Judge Selwood, a judge with strong military connections. On the first day of the trial, the jury, defendants and their representatives were excluded from the trial so that the Judge and prosecution team could argue about Public Interest Immunity Certificates - the withholding of evidence and/or witnesses on the grounds of "public" (i.e. state) interest.
Paul Rogers was severed from the trial halfway through, due to a mutual parting with his solicitor and barrister. He faces another trial, perhaps as early as April 1998.
The trial finished on November 13th. The jury found Simon Russel not guilty, but convicted the three remaining defendants - Noel Molland, Saxon Woods and Stephen Booth. They were sentenced to three years in prison. The main arguments against the Gandalf Six…Five…Four… were that they had engaged in giving favourable coverage to illegal direct action, and, in the case against those associated with GA, had distributed written resources which could help people commit illegal direct action. The Crown Prosecutor argued that such coverage and distribution amounted to incitement, and that all six…five…four had conspired to thus incite. Probably the main reason Simon was acquitted was because the ALFSG always gets its magazine checked by a lawyer before publication. Such carefulness probably impressed the jury.
Why was this trial initiated?
The Big Issue has suggested that the trial was primarily an attempt to nail Robin Webb, ALF press spokesperson. Robin has been subjected to an enormous amount of police harassment and various trials - including one following the planting of a sawn-off shotgun in his car boot. The Big Issue suggests that the other five were used to net the big catch, Robin.
Yet Operation Washington cost £2 million, according to one estimate, and involved nearly sixty raids on bookshops and properties around the country. This doesn't look like an operation to get just one man. The main concern of the police seems to have been the continuing coverage of animal rights direct action, with Robin Webb, the ALFSG Newsletter and GA being the main conduits for such information. If they could close down Robin Webb and these two publications, perhaps they hoped that they could starve the animal rights direct action movement of the 'oxygen of publicity'. A second, perhaps subsidiary aim appears to have been to intimidate the wider direct action movements, in particular their journalists.
Defendants are divided over the extent of MI5 involvement in the case, although the issuing of Public Interest Immunity Certificates and an admission by DSI Thomas, in court, that MI5 were involved, shows that it wasn't just some parochial Hampshire trial. Some activists point out that Hampshire Police have a long-running vendetta against direct actionists in general and would be quite capable of running a show like this under their own steam; some say that Hampshire Police were fronting for ARNI (Animal Rights National Index - Special Branch's anti-animal liberationist/environmental direct action wing); others suggest that it's a result of a panicked competition between Hampshire Police, Special Branch and MI5 - all worried about jobs, resources and establishing reputations as "direct action busters". Whilst such speculation is interesting, and any emerging evidence should be widely distributed, I worry that there's a danger of getting caught up in the excitement of speculation, and miss the more vital issues. After all, even though potentially very immobilising, such massive state interest can also be distractingly gratifying.
This case has shown that elements of the state are capable of imprisoning editors and activists solely on the basis of the written word - and primarily on the basis of perceived favourable coverage of alleged illegal direct action. That the six accused were not some coherent group, that some of them had never even met each other, that their politics varied wildly, that they didn't all get on with one another - despite all this, the Crown Prosecutor and Judge were able to convince the jury that three of them had acted in conspiracy. And now they are doing three years.
Where was the outcry?
There was very little mainstream coverage of the trial, verdict or sentencing. The alternative/independent/radical press were also a little late to the scene - with the Oxford Alternative Media Gathering statement put out in September being the first significant concerted and coordinated act of solidarity. I think one of the problems was that Green Anarchist is a slightly marginalised paper within the movement, and people may have felt that in supporting the defendants they were supporting the politics of the magazine. Such confusion wasn't and isn't helped by some of the material coming out of the Gandalf Defence Campaign, which tends to mix up polemic with possible facts, and revolutionary calls with concern for civil liberties. But, even so, support for the defendants was poor and we should be ashamed. It wasn't difficult to see the issues and implications, and the literature from the Defence Campaign did make it clear that, if they could be tried, any of us could - that solidarity and self-interest were entwined. Stephen Booth, from prison, lists some of the publications which were referred to during the court case: Terra-ist, Bolton Evening Noose, Land & Liberty, Arkangel, Animal Liberation Primer, No Compromise, Do or Die, Green Anarchist, Liberator, Smashing the Image Factory, Without a Trace, Partizan, Kerosine (Yugoslavia), Underground (Canada), Berkshire Wood Elves, ALFSG Newsletter, Smoke & Whispers, Cement Cross, Urban Attack, No Comment, Devastate to Liberate, By-Pass, New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society Newsletter, The Power is Ours, Anarchy in the UK, Lancaster Bomber, Against All Odds, Keep it Spikey!
Have you ever been involved with any of these in any way? Do you know any of the editors of any of the above? Have any of the editors of any of the above ever contacted you, even in an unsolicited manner? There but for the grace of the Hampshire Constabulary go you.
I think the mainstream press might have responded with more civil libertarian horror at trial, verdict and sentences had there been a more dispassionate and non-polemical defence campaign around the case. And if there had been more visible and vocal support from the wider movements. There is still time to rouse such liberal wrath.
Revolution or Liberty?
Part of the confusion in the Gandalf Defence Campaign has come about through a deliberate wish to promote the revolutionary politics of Green Anarchist. This is a valid option, but should be clarified, so that people can choose whether or not to support on those terms.
It would also have to have the agreement of the current defendants and prisoners, and, from correspondence, I suspect that they would not be able to agree on a unified revolutionary line.
I think the best way to campaign around this case is to make the freedom of the press the main issue. This issue could unite revolutionaries, liberals and even some conservatives. It is the issue which the London Gandalf Support Campaign (separate to but supportive of the Gandalf Defendants' Campaign) is mobilising around, especially through their "Solidarity Pledge". I think, given this emphasis, the decision to burn an effigy of Judge Selwood outside the court during the most recent hearing for Paul Rogers and Robin Webb (2nd February, Portsmouth Crown Court) was a big mistake.
What would winning look like?
"Winning" this struggle would involve: getting the cases against Robin Webb and Paul Rogers totally dropped; getting the three prisoners out through a successful appeal - and up until that time, ensuring that they all receive excellent support; the radical media continuing to support, cover and argue for direct action; the powers-that-be not attempting another trial like this. All four outcomes are possible, and depend, to a great extent, on our ability to mobilise good quality support - broad, non-sectarian, well-argued and international. Even if we fail to win through the legal processes, good prisoner support and the continued exercising of press freedom will help to negate this significant act of state intimidation.
For Noel, Saxon and Steve's prison addresses see 'Prisoners of War' section in this issue.
Gandalf Defendants' Campaign, PO Box 66, Stevenage, SG1 2TR, UK. Tel: 0956 694922.
Pledge Of Solidarity
We call on all publications to fairly report the Gandalf case and the issues involved.
We pledge our solidarity with the Gandalf defendants, and call for the 3 jailed editors of Green Anarchist to be freed and for the outstanding legal actions against the 2 remaining defendants to be abandoned.
We pledge to throw our weight behind the campaign to support the independent and radical press, and to defend the freedom to report news of direct actions and protests.
We pledge to report news of direct actions and protests whenever and however we see fit, and we will resist any attempts to censor journals or organisations which exercise such freedoms.
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Return to: London GAndALF Defendants' Support Campaign