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They Even Removed my Genes (1998) by Ben Edwards

by Ben Edwards
One of the journalists arrested after the destruction of a Genetic test crop near Totnes, UK on 4th August 1998.

As I stood outside the police station at 11pm someone I did not know hugged me. This was the first real human contact I had had in the last 24 hours. Over this time I had been arrested for conspiracy to commit criminal damage, had my house raided by the police while I was not present, had my video camera sized and even my clothes taken from me. Is this an average day for a Video Journalist?

This was the most traumatic 24 hours of my life and apparently the police had authorisation to hold me for a further 12 hours. The worst thing was that I had never been arrested before so did not know what to expect. I know that genetics is a very topical issue right now and this was the reason that I, as a journalist, decided to cover it. I had no idea that the destruction of what I understood to be a relatively small number of genetically engineered crops would mobilise such a massive police response. My home and two other journalists' houses, as well as at least 4 others in Bristol, London, Manchester, Devon and even a Bender (dwelling made of bent tree branches and tarpaulin) in Somerset were raided. I guess this just goes to show what a hot issue genetics really is.

In the interview it was suggested that I and possibly the other two journalists were the propaganda arm of the group pulling up the crops and we had helped organise the event. I am a freelance journalist and the only reason I attended was because I am currently working on a piece on genetically engineered crops at a production house in Oxford. Having previously sold footage to local TV, I estimate footage of this action was worth even more. As for being a propaganda merchant, I do not feel that selling exclusive rights to HTV, when the BBC also wanted the footage, is a very effective way of getting the maximum number of viewers.

The very fact that I failed to do my job properly by not actually entering the field to get footage seems to help my case. According to the duty solicitor, if I had managed to do this I would be in even worse trouble. Thank god that in this case I was an incompetent journalist!

As I was lying in my cell, I was going over a certain film on the 9th edition of the Undercurrents alternative news video. The piece entitled "Breaking News" is an investigation into whether the police are trying to stop Freelance Journalists covering certain types of news stories. The thing that most concerned me was that none of the Journalists involved in the piece said that they had been held for longer than one night. Having said this, I must add that the police did treat me well and the food was much better than I had expected, having both veggi and vegan options.

The ironic thing is that I have a application for an NUJ (National Union of Journalists) card sitting on my desk. Maybe if I had not been so busy and managed to get round to posting it earlier things would have been a little different. Saying this, you do not have to have a NUJ card to be a journalist.

Although I was released after 24 hours, without charge or bail conditions, I have to return to the Plymouth police station on 24 September at 12 noon and I believe the other 11 who were released have been requested to do the same. Two people have been charged with criminal damage and face charges of over half a million pounds.

What next? I am a journalist and a documentary maker. I have a project to complete so will be working long hours to meet the deadline, which has now slipped by two days.

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