Deal with hunger striker denied

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THE GOVERNMENT last night ruled out holding negotiations with the animal-rights activist Barry Horne, who is said to be near death on the 62nd day of a hunger strike in prison.

Home Office Minister George Howarth said the Government could not respond to blackmail and would consider in its own time setting up a Royal Commission on whether animal experiments should be allowed. On Channel 4 News he said there had been "discussions" with Mr Horne's supporters. "I would not want to leave anybody with the impression that we are in some sort of negotiating situation of some kind. We are not ... What we cannot do - and no government in a democracy could do - is respond to any kind of blackmail. Governments simply cannot operate in a democracy on that basis."

Horne, 46, was jailed for 18 years last year for a firebombing campaign which caused pounds 3m damage. He was being held in Full Sutton prison, York, and is now in York district hospital, blind in one eye and with breathing difficulties. His weight has dropped from 14 stone to eight; supporters are waiting for news of his death.

His friend and daily visitor, Alison Lawson, told supporters staging a vigil that his condition had noticeably deteriorated during the day. "Barry is still conscious but he is not able to focus any more."

The MP for Kensington and Chelsea, Alan Clark, who has supported animal- rights causes in the Commons, yesterday said he admired Horne. Mr Clark told BBC Radio Five Live: "It is very tragic but in a sneaky way you have to admire it." He added that although he was wary of using emotive terms, Horne would "become a martyr" to the people who believed in his cause if he died.

Once he loses consciousness, Horne's living will comes into force, forbidding nurses from feeding him.