It was now up to the Director of Public Prosecutions to make the next move. Would the government’s top lawyer return my sculpture or would the director charge me with a crime?
Weeks went by without an answer. And the longer I waited, the more impatient I became. So in an attempt to speed things up, I protested against the government’s inaction.
As part of my protest, I attached a wire cage to the outside of a motorcycle helmet and inside the cage I put a live rat and my face.
I got the rat from a pet store where, at first, the shopkeeper only wanted to sell me the rat, whereas I only wanted to rent it for a few days. Fortunately, after a bit of negotiating, the owner made me a deal. He said that I had to pay the full price for the rat, however, if I returned it in good condition, he would give me a 50 percent refund.
So with everything ready to go, I sent this press release to the news media:
On Thursday, 21 January 1988, artist Rick Gibson will pace back and forth in front of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions wearing a helmet containing a live rat. Loosely referencing George Orwell’s 1984, Gibson’s performance is about the secretive and unexplained actions taken against him and his sculpture of two human foetus earrings.
Mr. Gibson’s sculpture was seized by police from a London art gallery. The police never warned Mr. Gibson about their intended actions nor have they explained why they took those actions. Mr. Gibson wants the Director of Public Prosecutions to give him some detailed explanations.
The next day, when I arrived at the Director of Public Prosecutions office, I was met by photographers and journalists.
One of those journalists was the future politician Boris Johnson, who back then was a twenty-three year old intern at The Times of London newspaper.
The journalists were soon joined by police officers and lawyers, who laughed while I paraded in front of the director’s office.
I ended my protest, about an hour later, by going home. The next day I returned the rat to the pet store and got my refund.
A couple of days later my name was recorded in Hansard (the official transcripts of the British Houses of Parliament) because of this exchange:
Labour MP John Cummings: To ask the Attorney-General if the Director of Public Prosecutions will prosecute Mr. Rick Gibson for using freeze-dried human foetuses in an artistic display.
The Attorney-General Sir Patrick Mayhew: The Metropolitan police have forwarded a report to the Crown Prosecution Service concerning an exhibition at the Young Unknowns Gallery. The papers are currently under consideration.
The reason I have to mention this protest is because it triggered my criminal trial at London’s Old Bailey courthouse.
Because according to my lawyers, initially the Director of Public Prosecutions was seriously thinking about giving the sculpture back to me as soon as the media publicity had died down. However, when he looked out his office window and saw me and the rat marching back and forth in front of laughing spectators, and then read the report in Hansard, he was rumoured to have said, “If that boy wants to play rough, I’ll play rough.”