The men with the mobiles: selfish rabble or latter-day Wat Tylers?

The Protesters
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The Independent Online

Heroes or villains? To some they are demonstrators who show no concern about bringing the country to a halt; to others they are folk heroes in the mould of Wat Tyler.

Heroes or villains? To some they are demonstrators who show no concern about bringing the country to a halt; to others they are folk heroes in the mould of Wat Tyler.

Yesterday ministers were mumbling with frustration about the men who had shaken them by organising blockades and rolling convoys with military precision. The men with the mobiles, organisers of Britain's most widespread civil disturbance for decades, say they are ordinary farmers and hauliers pushed into desperate measures by crippling fuel costs. Some are also experienced demonstrators who have highlighted the difficulties facing their industries before. The most prominent organisers are:

David Handley, 48, chairman of Farmers for Action UK (FFA UK), set up a year ago. He is a dairy farmer from Llangovan, near Monmouth. He and his wife have picketed supermarkets for the past eight months in protest at milk prices. "There is nothing else we can do. This is the last resort," he said.

Brynle Williams, 51, a coordinator at Stanlow, Cheshire, runs a sheep and beef farm at Cilcain, North Wales. A vice-chairman of the Flint branch of the Farmers' Union of Wales, he has been protesting at the refinery since the blockade began. He said: "Tony Blair appears to be the only man in Britain who does not know what civil rights mean." He has been involved in other demonstrations in North Wales.

Tom Houghton, north-west co-ordinator of FFA UK, also helped organise at Stanlow. The farm manager from Sandbach said: "This has been simmering for months. Everything about the farming industry is going down - beef, sheep, pigs."

John McLusky, 43, a coordinator in Scotland, farms at Roslin, near Edinburgh. He says he has never been involved in direct action before.

Richard Haddock, 43, is the south-west delegate to the council of the National Farmers' Union and has 1,000 head of Aberdeen Angus beef cattle at Kingswear, near Dartmouth, Devon. "I am astonished ministers are saying things about us," he said. "I have repeatedly invited them here but I have never had as much as a recognition. Why should I keep quiet just because Tony Blair wants me to be quiet? Me and my wife have struggled for everything we have and we are not going to give it up. We have worked our butts off." He has also called for a boycott of French goods, calling on people to congregate at Plymouth docks, urging them: "Be there and fight for us all."

Nigel Kime, 37, is the chief spokesman for British Hauliers Unite and has been protesting at the refineries at Immingham since last Saturday. He owns a haulage business in Boston, Lincolnshire, which he said he was running at a loss. "If the country has to run dry, then so be it," he said.

Andrew Scott, 41, a dairy farmer from Leicester, is one of the East Midlands organisers. He believes he could be out of business within six months. He said: "If you met me you would know I am not the sort of person to take action but now I am desperate."

Maurice Vellacott, an Exmoor hill farmer, is helping to co-ordinate efforts in Devon. He said: "We are fighting for our survival. We are digging in and morale is tremendous. Hopefully we can unite Britain again in a common cause."

Derek Lynch, who owns a haulage firm based in Kent, is a central player in the blockade at Purfleet, Essex. He said: "The demonstration is going very well. We are in for the duration."