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DONE WITH EXTREMISM; ANIMAL RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER PLANS QUIET NEW LIFE AFTER JAIL.

Byline: JAMES McCARTHY

AN ANIMAL rights extremist jailed for 11 years for masterminding a global terror campaign is planning a new life when she is freed this November - as a gardener.

Vegan Heather Nicholson has learned to tend an organic vegetable plot since she was put behind bars in 2009 after being convicted on conspiracy to blackmail charges. The Swansea 45-year-old - whose group daubed slogans like "murderer", and "puppy killer" on homes and cars - has been working in the prison garden on Surrey's HMS Send growing organic tomatoes and other food.

She fears she will never be allowed to work with animals again on her release later this year, and is thinking of putting her green-fingered skills to good use.

Mum Shirley, 68, said a friend had already offered her a job when she is released in November but Nicholson might not be able take it as it involves working with animals.

"It's nothing to do with campaigning but the authorities seem to think she might influence people.

"But she is finished with campaigning.

"She did what she thought was good and right but it is someone else's turn now and she can turn her life around.

"She works very hard in the gardens of the prison. It has been getting her down a bit but she can see the end now and seems OK."

Nicholson claims her days as an activist with Animal Liberation Front offshoot SHAC - Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty - are behind her.

Dad George Barwick, who visited her last week, said she was likely to spend six months in a hostel as part of her sentence.

George, 77, also a strict vegan, said: "She can now lead a decent life, apart from restrictions, and hopefully she will be able to set up a business, or might be able to work for an animal sanctuary."

Nicholson, a former nanny, and 22-year-old Aberdare man Daniel Wadham were jailed in 2009 for leading a six-year conspiracy stretching from Britain to the US and Japan, targeting scientists, businesses and workers connected with Huntingdon Life Sciences animal research centre.

She and five others, including her ex-husband Greg Avery, were convicted following a pounds 3.5m operation by 12 police forces in the UK and the FBI in America.

"When she was on trial she pleaded not guilty and she still says she is not guilty of anything," George said at his Swansea home.

George said: "In 50 years' time they will look back and say, 'did they really do those things to animals and really treat campaigners that way?' "But it will be history then. We'll look back on it the same way we look back on people hanging witches."

Tactics employed by Nicholson and her cohorts included threatening to stab people with Aids-infected needles; sending hoax bombs and sanitary towels allegedly contaminated with HIV and making threats to blow a businessman's legs off.

Innocent workers were smeared as child abusers.

Threatening letters and e-mails were written and menacing phone calls made. There were threats to dig up dead relatives' bodies.

If she thought she could, Nicholson would carry on fighting against experiments on animals, George said. "She would go on doing it for the rest of her life if she was free to campaign," he said.

Before her arrest, Nicholson said: "I've got 50 injunctions, an Asbo, I get harassed, arrested, raided. I'm still here.

"You will not shut me up for ever." The sentencing in 2009 was not her first brush with the law.

She has been jailed several times, including with Wadham in 2006.

That was for a town centre attack on a 75-year-old woman and her family. They had a pro-hunting sticker on their car window.

Former lecturer George insisted the Government conspired to ensure his daughter was locked up.

"Heather has done nothing wrong," he said.

"Paedophiles and murderers would have got half that sentence.

"She is a saint. She does not drink or do drugs and is totally against cruelty to animals."

Nicholson is being released now because time spent on remand means she will have served half her sentence in November.

CAPTION(S):

Animal-lover Heather Nicholson, pictured in America aged 32, plans to turn her life around, say her parents George and Shirley Barwick, from Killay, Swansea, inset left
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 16, 2012
Words:714
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