Mark Wallinger: Brian Haw was the conscience of a nation grown quiescent

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The Independent Online

Brian showed us what a quiescent and supine country we've become. After two million came out to protest against the Iraq war it was as if everybody decided to give up. But Brian never gave up. Then they brought in laws trying to curtail his/our right to protest outside Parliament and very few lifted a finger to do anything about that.

He was a unique and remarkable man. Earlier, I was asked how to describe him and the first words I came up with were tenacity, integrity and dignity. And then Michael Culver, an old colleague of his, said rage, and I think that is absolutely right. That's not to say he wasn't a funny man. He was self-aware and could be ironic or sarcastic. What Brian was saying was never really reported properly, nor was the depth and heroism of his struggle. People who should know better would describe him as a crank and wouldn't bother to hear what he had to say.

I first met Brian six or seven years ago. I started taking photographs of his protest, not for any real reason, just because I was so impressed. But his achievement went beyond protest. He documented the horrific birth defects suffered as a result of depleted uranium from the first Gulf War; and the lies and evasions of Bush and Blair, which were emblazoned on banners as their words turned to ash. These images and the facts were overwhelming.

Over time, Brian has been proven wholly right. It's pretty obvious to everyone now that we went to war on a lie. In many ways he was the guilty conscience of all the complacent, lazy people who hadn't taken a stand or examined their views at all. I think people often felt threatened by that. You would spend time with him and people would drive by, shouting abuse, and I think it's because they were threatened that they'd never taken such an adamant stand about anything.

He was a Christian and there was a sense that he was bearing witness to what was happening in the world. But what angered him most was the death of the innocents: the children who lost their lives to warfare and sanctions. That angered him more than lies, stupidity and self-serving politicians. Brian Haw stood for peace and love. What are we going to do now there is no one there?

Artist Mark Wallinger's 'State Britain' was a recreation of a display which had originally accompanied Brian Haw's peace protest