19 March 2002

Farmer jailed for refusing to name GM guilty

By Auslan Cramb, Scotland Correspondent

The first GM crop protester to be jailed in Scotland was sent to prison for 21 days yesterday for refusing to name the people who helped him to damage a field of oilseed rape.

Donnie MacLeod, 53, an organic farmer, was found guilty of contempt after being given the weekend to "think about answering the question".

His supporters said outside Dingwall sheriff court that the decision was "farcical" and they would stage a protest outside Porterfield prison in Inverness.

He was held in contempt of court during the trial of Matthew Herbert, 31, of Oxford, who denied damaging crops in a GM trial at a farm near Munlochy in June last year by trampling an X-shape in the field. The case against Herbert was dropped after the ruling by Sheriff James Fraser.

Mr Herbert commented outside the court: "I find the whole thing farcical. Donnie has gone to jail for taking a moral stance in trying to do what is right."

On Friday, Macleod told the court that he was responsible for damaging the crops but refused to say who was with him. The sheriff warned him that he could be sent to jail and suggested that he consider over the weekend whether he wanted to answer the question.

He told the court yesterday: "I have thought a lot about it and I have to do what I think is right. I am on oath and I take that seriously but I have difficulty in criminalising people. I wish no disrespect to the court. I can assure you that I do not offer myself for martyrdom.

"The stance I have taken is in defence of the future of independent farming in the Highlands and the health of our children and our environment. I feel that it is right where democracy has failed us."

Sheriff Fraser told him he was guilty of a "blatant and direct contempt of court".