Power of one

From the dogged anti-war maverick to the bird lover who wanted to see the great bustard return to our shores, Peter Stanford meets the lone crusaders who tried to make a difference in 2004
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You know you disagree with what's being done, but what can you do? Well, quite a lot it seems. One of the most headline-grabbing trends of 2004 has been the rise of the lone campaigner, the person who realises that they have had enough of standing on the sidelines and suddenly sets out to change the world. While the rest of us retreat into our homes and perhaps have the odd heated debate over the dinner-party table about whether our troops should be in Iraq, or what's happening to our countryside, other people leave comfort and safety behind them in a bid to be the one person who makes a difference.

You know you disagree with what's being done, but what can you do? Well, quite a lot it seems. One of the most headline-grabbing trends of 2004 has been the rise of the lone campaigner, the person who realises that they have had enough of standing on the sidelines and suddenly sets out to change the world. While the rest of us retreat into our homes and perhaps have the odd heated debate over the dinner-party table about whether our troops should be in Iraq, or what's happening to our countryside, other people leave comfort and safety behind them in a bid to be the one person who makes a difference.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean they are right, but in an age when many see political parties as unthinking dinosaurs detached from people's everyday experiences, their voices often resonate in a way that few professional politicians could ever hope to match. While many have little truck with the antics or ambitions of Fathers 4 Justice, for example, no one can dispute the tenacity and skill of their media-savvy, fancy-dress-loving Jason Hatch. Even if your name is Basil Brush, surely you have to admire the skill of the pro-hunting Baroness Mallalieu in tearing to shreds so many of the Government's attempts to ban the chase.

Over the following pages, meet the people,who prove that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

David Waters: 'Bring back the great bustard'

When I started to look into bringing some great bustard chicks over from Russia, I thought that I'd do the groundwork and then hand the project on to one of the conservation bodies. I'd meet them and say, 'Here is the research' and they'd say, 'What a good idea.' And so it went on. I feel like I have done this by default."

For six years, 37-year-old former policeman David Waters, from South Wiltshire, has been on a one-man mission to reintroduce the great bustard to the British countryside. The world's heaviest flying bird (it looks a bit like a turkey), the great bustard vanished from these shores as a result of changing agricultural practices and over-hunting in the 1840s.

In May of this year, Waters transported 28 chicks from their nests near the Volga river in Russia to Salisbury Plain. After "training", 22 were released into the wild and 16 are still alive. And Waters intends to bring more chicks over in each of the next 10 years.

The project has cost around £250,000. It has been supported by the European Union, but it has been Waters who has given up his day job, put in the time (along with his wife, Karen) and covered any shortfalls. At one stage, he had to sell his collection of vintage motorbikes to fund the project.

"I could only read about exotic birds like albatrosses and parrots, but the great bustard was native to Britain and we'd lost it. It just seemed wrong. When I watch the male birds flying over the plain, they are hugely impressive. They're almost full-grown now with a massive wingspan of two-and-a-half metres. It always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up."

Small groups can visit the birds, tel: 01722 710 779

Brian Haw : 'Stop killing innocent children'

In the three-and-a-half years since he set up his stall opposite the Palace of Westminster, Brian Haw has only left his peace vigil three times. Each time was to go to hospital after he had been beaten up. On the last occasion, his nose was broken. His assailant had an American accent and Haw believes that he was a marine.

"I'd like to go back to Birmingham to see my seven children," says 55-year-old Haw, a devout Christian. "But how could I look them in the face unless I knew that I'd done all I could to save the children of Iraq and other countries who are dying because of my government's unjust policies."

He arrived on 2 June 2001, and put up a small display of placards protesting the deaths of children because of sanctions against Iraq. It is believed that his vigil, now close to 1,300 days, is the longest one-man protest in British history. And it is clearly getting to his targets. Last month, the Home Office added an amendment to a bill to tackle serious crime to ban such continuous vigils from Parliament Square.

He sleeps under tarpaulin each night. "The hunting ladies are allowed a tent when they come, but the police told me I might have a missile launcher inside mine. Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself, I think about the children in the mountains of Afghanistan who are sheltering in caves because of our policies. I don't know what it is going to take to stop this madness. All I know is that this is what I feel I can and must do."


Baroness Mallalieu: 'I demand the right to hunt'

For much of the parliamentary sitting, the unelected House of Lords is a backwater, the place where legislation from the Commons is scrutinised, amended and improved without any fuss. From time to time, though, it takes centre stage - usually in titanic struggles with the elected Commons over controversial bills. Each clash tends to bring to the public's attention an unlikely but independent-minded firebrand among the peers - such as Baroness Young in the row over Clause 28 or Lord Longford on prison reform.

And the recent set-to over fox-hunting followed a familiar pattern. This time, the Lords threw up the camera-friendly figure of Labour backbencher Baroness Mallalieu, a 60-year-old criminal-law barrister who organised frantic last-ditch opposition to the ban on hunting with dogs.

"It really wasn't what Neil Kinnock had put me into the Lords for back in the 1980s," says Ann Mallalieu. "He had wanted me to bring some reality to the handling of criminal-law reform, but I've always hunted and therefore been pro-hunting and I suppose that made me a bit of a novelty as a woman and a Labour peer. I fell into this by accident."

In 1997, she was recruited to be president of the Countryside Alliance, which believed that, with the change of government, a Labour insider might open doors for it. It has proved a misguided strategy, she laughs. "I can state without any fear of being contradicted that any ambitions I might ever have had to be a minister [she sat on the opposition front bench from 1992 until 1997] have been firmly put to rest now."

She has paid a high price in other ways too. There have been a number of death threats and even the need for police protection. Mallalieu displays the death threats on the fridge. "I take the view that if they are really going to do it they won't bother sending me a letter to warn me first.

"I cannot see a way that hunting will not continue, either because of all the loopholes in a very badly drafted piece of legislation or in other countries like Ireland where it remains legal. And then, one day soon, sanity will break out here again."


Jason Hatch: 'Fathers have rights too'

He is prepared to die in order to get family courts in this country to stand up for fathers' right to see their children. A painter and decorator by trade, 32-year-old Jason Hatch, from Cheltenham, dressed as Batman and staged a headline-grabbing protest on a narrow ledge on the front of Buckingham Palace in September. He unfurled a banner in support of the direct-action campaigning group Fathers 4 Justice.

"It was the most dangerous stunt I have done so far," says Hatch, who had previously managed to close Clifton Suspension Bridge and scale York Minster. "We'd checked it out the day before and so I knew there were armed security officers who could shoot me, but I went ahead because, frankly, I've got nothing to lose.

"I haven't seen my two kids for three and a half years now because my ex won't let me, and I don't have much faith that the courts will force her to. Perhaps it will take my death before Tony Blair realises the injustice being done to fathers like me. It won't help my kids, but if my death got the law changed then it would help the 200,000 children who are denied access to their fathers in this country."

Hatch lives in the same street as his ex-wife. His children, aged six and five, walk past his front door every morning. A court has granted him custody at weekends and for half of all school holidays but, according to Hatch, their mother refuses to comply. "Whenever I approach her, she calls the police and accuses me of molestation. When I tried to send my children a birthday present, it had to be routed via both parties' solicitors and via the courts. It is 75 feet from my front door to theirs," he says, "but it took three weeks for the gift to arrive. How can that be right?"

It was frustration at the failure of family courts to enforce their directives about shared custody that led him to join Fathers 4 Justice in January of this year. Now he works with the organisation full-time. "When I'm doing a protest, I keep my focus 100 per cent on my children. That drives me on. I hope that they will see me on the television and then know how much I care about them and how much I want to see them."

The risks, he feels, are worthwhile because attitudes are changing. "When we hand out leaflets, people come up to me and say, 'Well done, you have our sympathy.' There are a lot of women who give us their support and say, 'I wish my ex cared as much for his children as you do for yours.'"

www.fathers-4-justice.org, tel: 01787 281 922

Gina Ford: 'Give babies more routine'

Visit any mums' and toddlers' group around the country and, at 11 o'clock, the room will empty as the mothers all go racing home to put their babies to sleep in a darkened room. "We are," one explains, "the Gina generation." Where once it was Truby King, Doctor Spock, Penelope Leach or Sheila Kitzinger who shaped the nation's babies, today's pre-eminent childcare guru is Gina Ford, an Edinburgh-born maternity nurse in her fifties who, for the past five years, has been Britain's best-selling writer on the subject.

Her structured routines, first set out in The Contented Little Baby Book, have attracted millions of devotees around the globe, including the actress Kate Winslet who descibes Ford as "an absolute godsend". This year saw the launch of Ford's website, a place desperate parents can turn to when their children won't sleep, eat or let their mum and dad have a life.

Ford has faced a determined critical backlash, especially among those who defend the more liberal demand-feeding-and-sleeping ethos that dominated the 1980s and 1990s. The attacks range from the professional - Ford can be too prescriptive, they say, with knock-on effects for bonding - to the personal: how can she know what she is talking about when she has never been a mother herself?

"In my career as a maternity nurse, I've looked after 300 babies in 20 countries," she says. "If you're having a heart operation, do you choose the surgeon who has had 10 attacks himself and carried out 20 operations, or the one who has had no attacks and carried out 100?"

She began writing, she recalls, because there were so many people being referred to her for advice on how to get their baby into a routine. The notes and tips that she jotted down became her first book. Four more titles have appeared since 1999. "It wasn't a campaign to change anything. It was just sharing how I did it."

Ford keeps a low profile and has refused many offers to participate in public or television debates with those who disagree with her methods. "I don't need to win them round because I know that what I write about works. It would be wasting my energy when I'm working 18 hours a day because there are so many parents out there who desperately need my help."


Michael Gallagher: 'Fight the cancer of terrorism'

Before 15 August, 1998, if someone had pointed a television camera at me, I would have walked the other way," says Michael Gallagher. But on that day, a 500lb bomb, planted by the Real IRA, killed 29 people in the Northern Irish market town of Omagh. The dead included Gallagher's 21-year-old son, Aidan.

"I was a quiet family figure," recalls 53-year-old Gallagher. "I never expected to meet presidents and prime ministers. It has been an honour to do so, but no one would want to pay the price we did." As spokesman for the Omagh Support Group, Gallagher began by pressing the RUC on its investigation into the crime and, when that failed to result in prosecutions, continued to fight for those responsible to be brought to justice.

In January next year, the Belfast High Court will hear the families' civil case for substantial damages against five members of the Real IRA whom the Omagh Support Group accuse of playing a part in the killings. (In civil law, the burden of proof is less demanding than in criminal law, as shown when OJ Simpson was acquitted of his wife's murder by a US criminal court but ordered to pay damages to her family by a civil court when it heard the same evidence.

Leading the fight has cost Gallagher's family their privacy. "When I am in Belfast, I am recognised in the street as the father of Aidan who was murdered. It is not what I would have wanted, but there is undeniably an element of therapy to the work. When I questioned what I should do, I knew that I had to fight the cancer of terrorism however I could. I hope that by taking on this burden I will encourage others and give hope to those who feel they have no voice."

The Omagh Support Group, tel: 02882 259 877

Peter Tatchell: 'Equal rights for gays and lesbians'

There are bars on the windows, fire extinguishers in all the rooms and alarms everywhere. Peter Tatchell's London home is a fortress. "It has been like living through a civil war here over the past 20 years," he says. "First it was homophobic gangs, the National Front and neo-Nazis, and then Islamic fundamentalists and agents of the Zimbabwean government. What they all have in common is that they want to harm or kill me."

The range of his assailants reflects the scope of 52-year-old Tatchell's intensely personal campaign for human rights over the past three decades. He has been fighting discrimination against homosexuality since 1969 - "A time when hardly anybody, not even gays and lesbians, believed in equal rights." In the 1980s and 1990s, through the organisation OutRage, Tatchell targeted hypocrites in politics and the Church - individuals he alleged were gay in private but preached discrimination in public. In 1999, he made world headlines when, in Brussels, he attempted a citizen's arrest on the Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe.

This year has seen the culmination of his 10-year campaign Stop Murder Music, directed at lyrics in reggae and rap songs that incite listeners to kill homosexuals. Two artists, Elephant Man and Vybz Kartel, were dropped in October from the annual Mobo (Music of Black Origin) Awards after they refused to apologise for their violently homophobic lyrics.

"My motive is love - of other people, of life, of justice. If I could change things by writing letters to the press," he insists, "I would. But every right and freedom we have - from a free press to votes for women - have been won by campaigners who were prepared to take risks with their personal safety."