Prisoner in hunger protest `near death'

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A MILITANT animal rights activist was last night close to starving himself to death in protest at the Government's failure to implement a ban on vivisection.

Barry Horne, who is serving an 18-year sentence for arson, had last night gone without food for 45 days. His eyesight is failing and he has lost more than a quarter of his body fat.

Martin Hurson, one of the republican prisoners who took part in the hunger strike of 1981, died after just 46 days. Doctors who visited Horne this week said that even if he was to resume taking food immediately his chances of survival would be less than 70 per cent.

The Prison Service said that Horne's condition in Full Sutton high-security prison near York is "giving cause for concern" and he may be transferred to a hospital for better treatment.

In the meantime, the prisoner, who carried out a campaign of arson attacks on shops, huddles in his cell beneath seven blankets.

Last year, he held fasts lasting 35 and 46 days respectively. The previous protests have sapped his resources to an extent where his health is in far worse condition during the current hunger strike, which Horne has said he will carry on until death if necessary.

At his trial last year, Horne was described by the judge as an urban terrorist and by police as "dangerous, ruthless and absolutely committed".

The sentence was the harshest ever given to an animal rights protester, despite the judge's acknowledgement that Horne had no intention of endangering human life. Operating alone to lessen his chances of being caught, he based himself in Birmingham and launched a series of attacks on shops throughout the south and west of England. Using incendiary devices, he caused millions of pounds of damage to stores on the Isle of Wight in 1994 but was caught in Bristol two years later after police dedicated a squad of 50 officers to monitor his movements.

Horne, a 46-year-old father of two teenage children, is an unlikely animal rights terrorist. A former machine engineer from Northampton, he became seriously involved in the movement at a relatively late age after the break-up of his first marriage, around 15 years ago.

The Prison Service said the last prisoner to die on hunger strike was murderer Gary Bland, after 96 days.