31 January 2015
By Mary Griffin
Animal rights protester killed at Coventry Airport is remembered for her ‘strength and her smile’
Jill Phipps died trying to halt a truck during a protest against veal calf exports at Coventry’s Baginton Airport on 1st February 1995
Friends and family of Jill Phipps are remembering the campaigner 20 years after she was killed at Coventry Airport.
Jill, 31, from Hillfields, was demonstrating against the export of veal calves to Europe when she was crushed beneath a 50-tonne lorry on February 1 1995.
The mum-of-one was protesting against the export of live animals from the site, a process started by businessman Christopher Barrett-Jolley who was later jailed for smuggling cocaine.
There was an outpouring of grief over Jill’s death and her funeral was held at Coventry Cathedral to accommodate the mourners.
But 20 years on, relatives and friends are still mourning the “needless” death of a brave woman with a heartfelt smile.
Her brother Zab, now 65, said: “There was a big age gap between us – 15 years – but there was always a special connection between us. I suppose we were both hippies and we both enjoyed life.
“She was very special to me.
“Until very recently when my mum was still alive we would still get letters from far flung parts of the world, from little animal rights groups who knew about Jill.
“So she’s remembered worldwide.
“She was a lovely, strong person – not just good but brave. She wasn’t scared to say what she thought.”
At an inquest into Jill’s death the coroner ruled she died accidentally.
The Crown Prosecution Service decided there was not enough evidence to bring any charges against the driver and no one has ever been prosecuted for what happened.
Zab, who lives with Jill’s 29-year-old son Luke, said: “There were so many police there on the day she was killed that at the inquest they told us there were nearly two police officers to every protester.
“They could’ve surrounded that lorry and walked it through.
“There was no reason for anybody to die.
“I still think just how needless it was.
“It shouldn’t have happened.”
Jill’s close friend and fellow animal rights campaigner John Curtin felt the policing of the airport protests had turned into a “spectacle”.
He said: “There were big headlines that Jill lay down in front of the lorries and gave her life as a martyr, but that didn’t happen.
“She was protesting. She was demonstrating. She didn’t plan what happened. It was a complete tragedy.
“But there was an explosion of interest at the time in the whole issue and, if nothing else, it focused our attention on what was happening at Coventry Airport.
“People have hazy memories of that.
“Every single day there were hundreds of police officers up there. All that taxpayers’ money that went into policing those exports.
“What a spectacle it became.”
He added: “If you get hurt in the line of demonstrating you’re seen as some radical.
“So there were these two characters – the respectable businessman and the violent protester, but you have to flip that on its head to see the reality.”
Barrett-Jolley, who was also at the centre of media reports over alleged gun-running to developing countries, was handed a 20-year jail sentence in 2002 after trying to smuggle £22 million of cocaine into the UK in the plane of a Nigerian prince.
Mr Curtin said: “Whenever anyone dies people always say ‘She was this’, ‘She was that’, but in Jill’s case, she really was such a warm and nice person.
“A lot of people remember her by her smile – you can’t fake a smile like she had.”
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