THE organiser of a North East music festival vowed yesterday to continue the event after being cleared of a drugs offence.
Hill farmer Andy Norman, who stages the crowd-drawing Thimbleberry Music Festival on his land above Stanhope, Weardale, County Durham, was charged with permitting people to smoke cannabis at the event.
But yesterday Judge Christopher Prince, presiding at Durham Crown Court, directed Mr Norman, 52, to plead not guilty.
The judge did so after hearing an argument from Mr Norman’s barrister, Chris Baker, that Michael Eavis, the organiser of the original Glastonbury, could hardly be held responsible for the behaviour of each individual who flocks to that event.
Therefore, he said, neither could Mr Norman at Thimbleberry.
Police charged Mr Norman with knowingly permitting the smoking of a class B drug on his premises between September 24 and September 27 last year, the dates the festival took place featuring underground musical luminaries as Nik Turner, formerly of Hawkwind, and Tony McPhee of Groundhogs fame.
The judge, on clearing Mr Norman, told him he could apply for £10 defence costs – the cost of him travelling to Durham – but as it would cost £15 of public money to process the application he hoped he would decide not to. Mr Norman agreed.
Afterwards he said: “The prosecution was a farce. I have had the prospect of prison hanging over me since I was charged.
“I do what I can to prevent drug taking, I put up No Smoking signs, but I cannot be responsible for everybody. There were 600 paying spectators and 500 musicians and their road crew at last year’s event.
“I intend to put on another festival this September now that this millstone has finally been removed.”
Now Mr Norman says he faces a legal battle to recover more than £3,000 festival takings which he said were confiscated under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Thimbleberry, said to be held on an old Viking settlement, has established itself over the last seven years as a platform for unsigned bands with four stages covering genres from drum and bass to indie, jazz and reggae.
Mr Norman, who lives on the farm with wife Suzi and three children, was recently awarded a Forestry Commission grant to create a winter refuge and feeding area for endangered black grouse.