Weymouth magistrates acquitted seven activists yesterday after charges of aggravated trespass collapsed.

On 16 July last year, nearly 100 protesters had dressed as grim reapers before invading a 33-acre field at Tolbridge Farm near Sherborne, Dorset. Christopher Black, 45, David Cooper, 37, Simon Fairlie, 50, Jacob Hooker, 25, Julie Horn, 37, Rowan Tilly, 43, and Michael Zair, 58, were in court yesterday for cutting down and trampling on a 5ft high genetically modified maize crop that belonged to Aventis.

About a third of the crop was damaged.

The action was committed in front of police officers, and a police video of the event was shown to magistrates. During police interviews, the seven claimed that they were protesting against the government trials because they considered them dangerous.

Judith Jordan, product development manager at Aventis, told the court that the GM crop formed part of a trial to test its herbicide resistance.

This is the first time magistrates have acquitted GM protestors. There already exists official concern that a jury is more likely to take the side of protestors, since Greenpeace executive director Lord Melchett and 27 others were acquitted of a similar crime last September.