FIRST-HAND Tilly Merritt, 78, of Brightlingsea explains her animal war
WHEN you live in a little town like Brightlingsea you don't think of these things. You hear about them, of course, but you never expect it to happen outside your house. We had a meeting in the community hall in January about these lorries with their animals and that's when I decided we should do something about it.

I didn't see anything about it on the telly - I just heard about it at that meeting and I knew it was wrong, so the next morning I went down to the docks to protest. I've never done anything like that before but it seems like the right thing to do - it still does.

At first I was on my own, but soon a few others came down and we had quite a crowd. I always take a chair with me now and wear my yellow jacket - it helps you get noticed and it keeps you warm.

I've got a badge which says I'm not an OAP, I'm a recycled teenager. Well, of course I am an OAP, but I feel a lot younger doing this. Before this, if I wasn't doing anything I would just be looking after my garden. I suppose some people see me as a sort of a leader. I hear them say, "Oh well, if Tilly's going down there, we're going too."

I'm 78 and I'm a widow. But I've always been a very busy person. I still go around visiting old people and we play draughts. It's a bit of fun for them. I worked with children for 14 years as a school dinner lady in Poplar, east London, and then for another 14 years as a domestic in a hospital. I've always cared about people, and I feel the same way about these animals.

This has been the 13th week of protesting and I'm not going to stop. The first time I saw the animals coming through, their little faces were looking at me as if they were asking me to help. A lot of them I see have got bleeding faces and there was one the other day with its leg stuck right through the side of the lorry. We heard there were some dead ones in one of the lorries but they still don't remove them.

It's had a big effect on me, all this business. You can't really think of anything else. Before, when I left the house, I used to think, "Oh, I must do this or do that when I go into town," but now I just go straight out the front door without thinking. It's on my mind the whole time. I've never really been scared when I've been in a protest, it's more anger that you feel, and hatred.

What the police are doing is unbelievable. Really, you wouldn't believe it if you saw it. One day in February I was sitting in my chair in the road and the others were sat behind me. The police heavy gang turn up, hundreds of them in their heavy boots, and start kicking us and punching us. Well, I wasn't moving, so they got hold of me and flung me over to the other side of the road. I had to have five stitches in my legs after that. You say things you shouldn't say to the police and the lorry drivers.

You blame a lot of people. I was brought up to respect the police, they were your friends. But now it's all changed.

Some days there are so many of them. The cars come first, about 20 or 30 of them, then the motorbikes and then the vans. When they stop they all jump out and run towards you, swearing and shouting: get out of the way, get over there, do this, go there. Of course they only swear at you when their governors can't hear. I've sworn back,I must admit.

My children are concerned about me. I've got one son and one daughter, two grandsons, two granddaughters and one great-grandson. My son is against me doing this and my daughter says I've got to take care, but I'm all right really. After all, I lived through the war in London. My house was blown apart, I lost three relations and two brothers-in-law.

They were hard times, but in some ways this is worse because at least back then we were all on the same side. I wouldn't risk my life for these animals, though - it doesn't do the animals any good if you die. It'll be people's voices that stop this. I know I'm going to get kicked and shoved a bit, but I can take that. I'm fairly tough, you know.

n Interview by Matthew Brace

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