Bardot mourns `Joan of Arc of veal'

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Smart suits mingled with housewives and little old ladies in woollen hats; the bland tone of ordinary people broken by splashes of pink dreadlocks and multi-coloured New Agers with pierced noses.

And then there was Brigitte Bardot, making the journey to Coventry Cathedral to "pay tribute" to Jill Phipps, the woman she had described as the Joan of Arc of veal. The actress turned animal rights campaigner was among 1,000 people who packed the cathedral to say farewell to a woman who overnight became a "martyr" to the animal rights movement.

Ms Phipps, 31, who died under the wheels of a cattle truck two weeks ago while trying to prevent sheep exports at Coventry airport, would have disliked the fuss but would have been impressed by the eclectic congregation. Alan Clark, the former Tory Cabinet minister, put in an appearance which caused a hostile ripple among those unaware of his dislike of fox hunting and animal cruelty. Mr Clark would only say that it was "self evident" why he had attended.

The disparate band seemed oddly at ease with each other but when Ms Phipps' favourite punk song followed a rousing "Jerusalem", the service seemed almost surreal.

The cathedral stood by its "sensible" decision to offer to stage the funeral. The revelation by Ms Phipps's brother, Zab, that the family was more pagan than Christian was ammunition for critics who warned that the service would turn into an animal rights circus. The Rev David Berryman, Ms Phipps' parish priest, who took yesterday's service, said the Church was not taking sides but chose to quote from a book by Professor Andrew Linzey, Oxford's first fellow in theology and animal welfare, who this week criticised the "shameful" history of Christian attitudes to animals. The congregation seemed in no doubt about his message. "The Church dallying on this tests the loyalty of Christian animal rights activists," said one middle-aged woman after the service. "If Jesus were around today he would be on the picket line at Coventry like Jill was when she died."

Justin Timson, Ms Phipps' boyfriend, speaking on behalf of the family, moved many to tears when he spoke of his love for "the girl with the beautiful smile and gorgeous eyes". He said she had always put her son Luke, 11, first but believed that all animals were "blameless and innocent". To abuse an animal was the same as abusing an innocent child.

John Curtin spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front, said Ms Phipps and her mother Nancy, 68 - who has been jailed for animal rights activities - were the "heart and soul" of Coventry's animal rights movement. For years, mother and daughter left their home on the Hillfields council estate every Saturday to set up a stall in Coventry city centre to convert people to the animal rights movement.

"Jill's death and the protest of the last few months will prove a watershed in the animal rights movement. The hard work that has taken place over the last 20 years is now being taken on by mainstream society. It's unfortunate that people like Jill had to risk their lives for that to happen."

But it was La Bardot who caused the greatest sensation. "Keep up the good work Miss Bardot," shouted one middle-aged woman critical of French veal eating habits as Miss Bardot, 60, struggled through the crowd outside. "They're all horrible there."

Calf exports fall, page 5