Peace but no quiet as campaign goes on for Lindis

Nothing seems to daunt the veteran peace campaigner Lindis Percy. She talks to Jill Armstrong after her latest spell in prison.

Lindis Percy is nursing a broken arm, sustained when falling off a dry stone wall during one of her regular "monitoring" visits to Menwith Hill. She was up there on her own at night, but that was nothing new. Lindis likes to keep an eye on the comings and goings at the American listening base, and it often lands her in trouble.

She is only just back home in Harrogate, having served half of a seven-day sentence in Low Newton Prison, County Durham, imposed after she refused to pay a 50 fine plus 150 costs, for obstructing the highway during one of her protests at Menwith Hill. She refused to pay the money as a matter of principle and, in spite of the current controversy over prison overcrowding, Harrogate magistrates decided that this campaigning grandmother should go to jail.

"My three days in prison must have cost a tremendous amount of money. You would think there might be a more creative solution to this. But I read three books while I was in there and somehow I managed to earn 1.83, I'm not quite sure how."

Lindis Percy must rank as Britain's best-known peace campaigner. She has been arrested on more occasions than she can remember, has been imprisoned over a dozen times and is banned from five US bases including her local Menwith Hill. When a news flash came up on television in 2003 just before a state visit by George Bush that a peace campaigner had climbed the gates of Buckingham Palace to make a protest, there was only one person it could have been. Then when George Bush Senior came to Yorkshire to speak at the International Business Conference, who should burst through the ranks of waiting photographers but Lindis Percy? She then unfurled an American flag and accused his son of "doing terrible things in the world".

Nothing seems to daunt this veteran campaigner, even at the age of 65 when many people are thinking of slowing down just a little. Last year, however, she decided to retire (though she hates the word) from her job as a part-time health visitor, as her husband Christopher was due to retire from his job as a chaplain in Hull, where they lived for 16 years. They now live in Harrogate, where Christopher was brought up and where her father once worked as a Church of England priest. It must make her "monitoring" of Menwith a tad easier, too.

Lindis says she "woke up to all this" at Greenham Common in 1979. She was working as a midwife in Southampton when she learned that Cruise missiles were to be deployed at the RAF base at Greenham. "I have been deeply concerned ever since," says Lindis. Along with fellow campaigner Annie Rainbow, she co-ordinates

the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB) which opposes weapons of mass destruction and, in particular, the proposed American Missile Defence System.

To Lindis, her work as a peace campaigner is a lifelong commitment. "I am not afraid of addressing people in authority, it's essential. You have to go on and on asking questions with the persistence of a two-year-old who drives you mad by asking 'why?' all the time." Her calm, well-modulated middle-class voice can have the effect of irritating those in authority even more, a fact which is not lost on Lindis, who had what she describes as a privileged upbringing.

Her father became Bishop of Portsmouth and she went to boarding school in Somerset. "We weren't rich because people are not paid well in the Church. But we were brought up with high standards and values." She has two older sisters and a younger brother. "Some people forget that you have a family and a network, and a loving network. I couldn't do all this on my own."

She and Christopher have three children and six grandchildren and they are part of the reason she never gives up. "What I am frightened of is destroying the world. Just think what we are handing on to our grandchildren."

She admits, though, that her commitment to her cause has had a big impact on her family, particularly Christopher. He supports what she does but there have been many worrying times, particularly the period 10 years ago when she became very ill while in prison in Holloway.

Lindis has always objected to being strip-searched, sometimes forcibly, during her various prison sentences and this last time she quite simply refused. "I said, 'Look, I'm 65-years-old. I won't take my clothes off in front of total strangers, it's an absurd thing'." She had already undergone three preliminary searches, including going through an airport-type scanner, before she arrived at the prison and felt she should not be required to take off her clothes. "I do understand that the community has to be safe but there are surely better ways." In the event, this time she was not made to undergo this humiliating procedure.

"I can come over as a lunatic, a nuisance and a troublemaker but the fact is, I am deeply concerned with the way things are going, and we have it in our power, for heaven's sake, to do it a different way."

Whatever people may think of her, Lindis Percy has proved to be a formidable campaigner, meticulous in her research. Arrested on one occasion for stepping over a yellow line at Menwith Hill, she immediately set about finding out if the base had permission from the Highways Department to paint this line on the road.

Such has been her persistence that the North Yorkshire Police and the Ministry of Defence applied for an Asbo (Anti-social Behaviour Order) to be taken out against her. The judge refused but instead ordered that she should be electronically tagged and put under a curfew for eight weeks.

Surely there must be times when even she feels like giving up? "Sometimes I do feel down-hearted about the decisions that are taken in the courts and the politics behind them. I have nearly been on the ground... but we are only here once, and it's important to contribute from wherever you are."

She lives by the Quaker principles of peace and non-violence and believes there must be hope for change in the future. And if she ever does feel down-hearted, she can always look at her favourite cartoon by Jacky Fleming, which she has framed. It features a girl, hair on end, jumping up in the air and shouting: "Never give up."

jill.armstrong@ypn.co.uk