Gun campaign mother in crossfire

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The Independent Online
Ann Pearston, the woman leading the Dunblane campaign to ban handguns, yesterday shrugged off her new "political" role and promised to keep telling her message to whoever will listen.

Clearly bemused at being cauight in the crossfire between Labour and the Tories after her speech at the Blackpool conference, she told The Independent:: "This, to us, is not party political. We're on a train and we don't know where it's taking us. Yesterday, it took us to Blackpool . . . If we're asked, we go. If we can, we go.

"If they want to start throwing insults at each other, fine, but all that's going to do is convey a message to the public which will not be very nice," said Mrs Pearston, who votes Conservative.

Her impassioned speech at the Labour Party conference on Thursday opened and ended with a standing ovation and reduced many Labour delegates to tears. But her eloquent appeal for a ban on all handguns prompted a somewhat different response from the Tories.

The Conservative Party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, yesterday accused Labour of cynically breaking the political truce over the gun massacre. "We were appalled," said a Conservative Party spokeswoman. "What we're saying is we don't want a dreadful tragedy like that to be treated like a political football."

Mrs Pearston denied she had been a "Labour Party puppet", and that Labour had itself taken a chance in inviting a "potentially loose cannon".

That speech was what I wanted to say. What the people of Dunblane wanted to say. They [Labour] didn't know what I was going to say."

She did not even toe the Labour Party line, she added. "I urged them [Labour] to go that step further to close the gap between us."

A Labour spokeswoman denied that the party was trying to tug heartstrings. "Basically, the Tories are embarrassed," she said. "They are using the excuse of a political football to cover up their embarrassment. Why haven't the Tories invited her? These people want to be heard."

Originally, Mrs Pearston hoped to go to the Conservative Party Conference. But the cost of hiring a stand - pounds 3,000 - was more than the Appeal fund could afford. It was only when the Labour Party approached her that she reconsidered the possibility of making an impact during the conference season. Labour paid her expenses.

The absence of an invitation from the Conservatives did not surprise Mrs Pearston. "They have taken a very strong view on waiting on Lord Cullen," she said. "I think they feel I really should be quiet."