20 February 2011

Losing the Plot

I have, at last, written a synopsis!

Try this:

Toby runs a smallholding where he rears rare breed pigs and cattle. His wife is nervous and highly strung but entirely lovable in her own special way. They make ends meet by selling produce and animal feeds.

Half of Toby's land is waterlogged and unproductive, he can't keep cattle in those fields except in very dry weather. He hires a local contractor to improve the fields by importing clean earth dug from agricultural land where a major gas pipeline is being installed.

Early one morning, Toby and his wife are awakened to the sound of their front door being smashed in. He runs quickly downstairs to be confronted by six armed policemen, who arrest him and his wife, allowing them only a few moments to put on some clothes before being taken to a police station.

At the police station, they are confronted by an officer from the Environment Agency who has organised the police raid and obtained a restraint order under the Proceeds of Crime Act. All their cash, bank accounts and assets are seized and frozen, leaving them unable to run their business or operate their farm. To Toby's horror, this was all because an Environment Agency officer, appearing privately before a judge, alleged that Toby and his wife had made a profit of over a million pounds from the operation of an illegal tip.

Released on bail, Toby and his wife endure difficult times, living from hand to mouth, relying on the support of friends just to get by. Their relationship suffers, his wife attempts suicide, and, during the two years it takes for the case to get to court, they are divorced.

The court case is long and complex. After a week of legal hearings, Toby and the contractor, who is a co-defendant, are offered a deal by the Environment Agency. If they plead guilty, they are told they will be let off with a fine and their assets released. Toby refuses but the contractor accepts the deal, fearing total ruin.

Toby has to endure a further two weeks of arduous trial during which the original statements given by the Environment Agency are proved to be false. He produces expert evidence that the fields are vastly improved, that there is no risk to the environment and that what he did was responsible and caring.

The Environment Agency make great play of the fact that the contractor pleaded guilty to illegal tipping. This, they insist to the jury, proves their case.

In a tense climax, the jury bring a verdict of not guilty and Toby is allowed to go free, his assets are released, to pick up the pieces of his livelihood as best he can.

Well, what do you think? Does this plot sound feasible? Is your sympathy with Toby? Are you angry at the injustice? Would you be interested in reading more, even though I have given away the outcome?

Relax, this isn't the plot for my new novel, far from it.

Toby's story is true, it's non-fiction. His case is one that I was involved in last summer.

The things that go on in real life are stranger than anything I can make up.