Old Etonian fined for damaging Harpenden GM crops

AN OLD Etonian eco warrior who trashed genetically modified wheat crops at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden has been ordered to pay �4,300.

Hector Christie, 51, who lives in a Queen Anne stately home, scattered organic seed and pulled up trial crops at Rothamsted Research.

When he appeared at Central Herts Magistrates’ Court in St Albans last Friday, Christie brought with him a GM free potato plant and two potatoes grown on his farm.

He told the magistrates he had carried out the protest because Rothamsted would not debate the dangers of GM with him. He said: “This is why I have done it. I won’t be doing it any more. I would love to have a proper debate.”

Prosecutor Jahangir Ali said Christie climbed over a fence at the research centre shortly before 8am on May 20 this year. In the field a crop of GM wheat, valued at �750,000, was being grown. He scattered seed and started pulling up crops.

Mr Ali said Christie told a security guard: “Calm down I am not running away. I am not crazy. I am not going to kill you. My job is done.”

Later he said: “You should not protect this experiment. It is a waste of time and money.” The police were called and anti GM crop fliers were found in his car.

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At one stage in the proceedings the amount of damage the prosecution alleged he caused rose from �3,850 to �51,900. It later went back to �3,850. The prosecutor said the higher valuation, which was no longer relied upon, was based on consequential losses caused by Christie’s action.

Christie, who lives at Tapeley Park, Bideford, pleaded guilty to causing criminal damage on May 20 this year. He was of previous good character. He is the eldest son of Sir George and Lady Mary Christie who run Glyndebourne Opera and his home was featured on the television series Country House Rescue.

Tom Stevens, defending, said Christie accepted he had caused the criminal damage but did not accept the valuation. He said: “He is a man of impeccable character and is sincere in his beliefs. He remains committed to ensuring this debate remains alive.

“He did what he did because he is motivated by a strong social conscious. The bedrock of his belief is biodiversity.”

Mr Stevens handed the magistrates character references from Labour politician and former minister Michael Meacher and the environmental journalist George Monbiot.

Mr Meacher said: “The scattering of the seed was meant to be symbolic. I don’t believe he intended to cause serious damage.”

The magistrates fined Christie �350, ordered him to pay a �15 victim impact surcharge, �85 prosecution costs and �3,850 compensation to Rothamsted.