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Painting by top disabled artist to go under hammer at Christie's

SHE counts thriller writer Frederick Forsyth among the admirers of her work and now artist Leanne Beetham is set to create more suspense when her latest painting goes up for auction.

Miss Beetham, who was written off by doctors when she was diagnosed with arthrogryposis syndrome as a baby, has forged a promising career as an artist by painting with her mouth.

The 19-year-old's watercolour, Freedom, the result of eight hours work, will go under the hammer at Christie's in London next Wednesday to raise money for the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.

Miss Beetham will be the youngest artist in the auction and is also the youngest member in the UK of the association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA).

And, although she is modest, her talent is not.

"I paint because I like it. I didn't think I was any good at it until someone told me," she said. "I don't know whether it's a talent or not, I just think if you are interested in something and stick at it then anybody can do it.

"It seemed quite natural to hold a pen in my mouth because I had no use in my hands. And I started drawing before I started writing. It's something I do without thinking."

Miss Beetham came to the attention of the MFPA aged 13 when she designed a Christmas card for her school.

She was awarded a grant to support her development and a scholarship three years later.

She received a further boost last October when Mr Forsyth spotted two of her paintings on display at the Royal Academy of Art. They were priced at 250 each, but the novelist wrote her a note saying he believed she was underselling her talent and enclosed a cheque for a four-figure sum.

The artist received a further plaudit last year when she received a special award for triumph over adversity from the NSPCC.Her progress continues to delight her grandmother Maureen, who has brought Miss Beetham up since she was barely a month old when her mother felt she could not cope with her disability.

"I'm so proud of her," said Mrs Beetham, 72. "When she was born doctors did not hold out much hope for her. We were told 'You do realise it is a very bad muscular disease; she will never be able to use her hands or walk'.

"It was more or less said she would be like a vegetable. How she has proved them all wrong. She has given me so much pleasure as she did her granddad Ken, who died last September."

Miss Beetham is studying for a degree in applied animal behaviour and training at Bishop Burton College in East Yorkshire – which she says helps her work immensely.

"It helps me understand my subject and allows me to give more detail," said Miss Beetham, of Wawne Road, Hull.

"I have always had an interest in animals and they are my favourite subject for painting.

"I've got no idea what I'll do when I finish my degree but I'll carry on with my art because I think that's where my future lies."

For more details on the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation visit www.artforsurvival.org.