Animal pulled out of labyrinth

My A-levels can come later, says Devon roads protester, aged 16
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The Independent Online
She had achieved what she set out to do. For five days, Animal had camped underground, at 16 the youngest of the Devon anti-road protesters, thwarting progress on the new A30 dual carriageway between Honiton and Exeter.

Ebullient and shrewd, she had rehearsed for the day when the contractors moved in and last Thursday night at the first hint that the day had come, she dived down the labyrinth of tunnels. Yesterday she was brought out by professional tunnellers, hired to evict Animal and her four colleagues.

It was something of a relief, she admitted, when she was finally freed from her self-imposed concrete and chains. But though release means she will be home on Friday to celebrate her 17th birthday she said she would do it again if necessary.

"Absolutely," she said. "No reservations at all." At last the public was beginning to question road schemes which entailed ripping through the countryside, she added.

Animal should have been studying for A-levels. With 10 GCSEs in the bag, she was due to take a place at a sixth form college last autumn. Her maths teacher remembered her as "very bright". "She was the sort of pupil who would want to know `What if?' and so on. She was genuinely bright all round," he said. "We cannot recall her being in the forefront of any kind of protest movement or being very involved in any particular cause," he added.

It was a television documentary which inspired her concern for the environment. Instead of carrying on with her education, she joined demonstrators at the Newbury by-pass in Berkshire. "Originally it was something interesting to do for the summer holidays," she said. "But I came to feel something for the environment in quite a deep way. In the end I was too addicted to it to go back to sixth-form.

"It was actually quite a difficult decision between direct action and education. The idea of A-levels still holds a lot of promise for me. But at this time in my life this is the right thing for me to be doing. I will return to my education at a later date."

Her decision made, her dedication has been considerable. She came to Devon in October, as soon as the eviction orders for the Allercombe, Trollheim and Fairmile protest camps were issued in the courts.

She waited for three months at Allercombe, returning home for Christmas and thereby missing the eviction on 27 December. At Trollheim, she tried to chain herself into a hole but did not succeed. Despite briefly considering moving on - going home or to another protest, she came to Fairmile and at 9.30 last Thursday evening began her stint underground. "I wasn't frightened," she said. "I had a lot of nervous adrenaline."

Animal has her family's support. Her father said last night: "Everything that comes out of the A30 is the gospel truth. What's important is how the protesters are working there, their magic and how they are being treated by the under sheriff of Devon and Cornwall."

Her father, who like her mother cycles everywhere as part of his green approach to life, makes his living doing Punch and Judy shows. It is, he said, a job which: "amuses me immensely".

He gave up his full-time job as deputy stage manager at a provincial theatre after six years to fulfil his dream to set himself up as a children's entertainer. Known as Professor, he takes his puppet-show around schools in the area telling stories, some of which he writes himself.