ULTIMATE PRICE FOR PEACE; Thirty Years Ago This Week Heralded the Start of One of the Iconic Protest Movements of British History - the Greenham Common Peace Camp. but, as RACHAEL MISSTEAR Hears, for the Family of a Young Woman Killed at the Anti-Nuclear Camp, the Fight for Peace Came with the Ultimate Price, Robbing Them of a Special Daughter, Sister and Niece

Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales), September 4, 2011 | Go to article overview

ULTIMATE PRICE FOR PEACE; Thirty Years Ago This Week Heralded the Start of One of the Iconic Protest Movements of British History - the Greenham Common Peace Camp. but, as RACHAEL MISSTEAR Hears, for the Family of a Young Woman Killed at the Anti-Nuclear Camp, the Fight for Peace Came with the Ultimate Price, Robbing Them of a Special Daughter, Sister and Niece


Byline: RACHAEL MISSTEAR

HELEN Thomas was just 22 when she died outside the Greenham Common airbase.

The peace campaigner was struck by a vehicle towing a police horsebox in August 1989 as she waited to cross the road to post letters to a friend.

Now as activists prepare to mark the 30th anniversary of the camp's distinctly Welsh beginnings, the anniversary provides a bittersweet reminder of both the family's loss and their pride in what protesters achieved.

The seeds for the world-famous protest were sown on September 5, 1981, when Welsh campaign group "Women for Life on Earth" arrived at the Berkshire RAF base. They had marched from Cardiff with the intention of challenging the decision to site 96 US cruise nuclear missiles there.

The 36 women, together with male supporters, delivered a letter to the Base Commander requesting a discussion on the expected arrival of the missiles.

However, when talks were refused, the group decided to remain at the base as a peace camp.

From these humble beginnings there grew a series of camps surrounding the base, the last of which persisted for 19 years.

The peace camp, which became women-only in 1982, saw thousands live in very basic conditions in all weathers with the constant threat of eviction, and ongoing harassment from police, military or vigilantes.

Seven years on and Helen's involvement came about when she had finished her history degree at Lampeter University and decided she wanted to take a year out.

After a stint of working for Women's Aid and various other charities while living in Cardiff, Helen - originally from Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthenshire - became inspired by the women of Greenham.

Her mum Janet, a magistrate, told Wales on Sunday: "Helen went down at the beginning of 1989. They had been short of women at that time and she wanted to get involved.

"She wrote back to us and would tell us what an incredible inspiration the women were and how she really wanted to give her time to peace."

At the time, Mrs Thomas said she was terrified for Helen, but her daughter's resolve was too strong.

"She turned to me and said 'you don't really want me to go, do you?' I asked if it made any difference and she said it wouldn't. She was very determined.

"We communicated a lot and I would say to her, 'why don't you come home, get a decent job and be involved at Greenham part time', but true to herself she said 'working for peace and justice was not a part-time job.'" It was to prove a fateful decision. On August 5, 1989, she was knocked down in a fatal road accident at the camp.

The facts surrounding the accident continue to rankle the family to this day. Her parents John and Janet have long maintained there was a coverup and that standard procedures were not followed. They have raised questions about why the driver was never breathalysed, why a crucial witness was not called to give evidence, and why the coroner instructed the jury to return an accidental verdict.

But despite challenging the inquest verdict through a judicial review in the High Court, a judge refused to allow a fresh inquest.

"It is not the verdict itself that upset us but the way that verdict was reached," Mrs Thomas said.

"I cannot help thinking that there was a cover-up, and that cover-up started immediately after my daughter was killed.

"Was it because my daughter was at Greenham Common that we did not get a fair inquest?" But despite the agony Helen's death brought the family, Mrs Thomas insists her daughter's story is just a tiny fragment of what has become one of the world's major protests. …

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ULTIMATE PRICE FOR PEACE; Thirty Years Ago This Week Heralded the Start of One of the Iconic Protest Movements of British History - the Greenham Common Peace Camp. but, as RACHAEL MISSTEAR Hears, for the Family of a Young Woman Killed at the Anti-Nuclear Camp, the Fight for Peace Came with the Ultimate Price, Robbing Them of a Special Daughter, Sister and Niece
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