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Father tells of shock at daughter's world profile as 'face of Greenpeace'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 04, 2013

By Phil Goodwin

  • A demonstrator stands next to giant photographs of Alexandra Harris and Kieron Bryan at an exhibition entitled '30 Acts of Courage' set up by Greenpeace in Russia

  • The Devon-born activist was released from prison on November 22, along with four of the five other Britons

  • Cliff Harris, 63, was shocked when his daughter was arrested. Below: Alex aged 6. Even as a child she cared about the environment

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The father of environmental activist Alex Harris has spoken of his shock at watching his "Devon country girl" daughter become the public face of the Greenpeace Arctic 30 campaign.

Cliff Harris described the bizarre feeling of sitting at home in Winkleigh watching Alex, 27, tell the 10 o'clock news how she used a radiator pipe, a spoon and an alphabet code to communicate with her friends and keep herself going in a freezing Murmansk jail.

The 63-year-old agronomist said when the family said goodbye to Alex in Norway in early September, all they were expecting was for the digital communications officer to have a little adventure and see the beauty of the Arctic for herself.

"They were just going to highlight the dangers of oil drilling in the Arctic," her father told The Guardian.

"It was quite a shock when we saw the footage of the Russians boarding the ship."

Just before she left, she sent an e-mail to Becky Mercer and some of her other university friends. "It's possible that we could be arrested," it said. "But it's a pretty low possibility. If you hear protesters have been arrested, that's not me. But if you hear that the crew have been arrested, then panic. LOL."

According to her father, although Alex cares deeply about the environment, she could hardly be described as a direct activist.

"When she was a young child, if ever there was a documentary or any news items about animals losing their habitat or facing extinction, she would watch it and you could see she was concerned about what she was hearing and seeing," he said.

Graduating with a marketing degree from Bournemouth University, Alex worked in Abu Dhabi before taking a few months off to travel.

On a visit to the Amazon she saw what oil spillages could do to an ecosystem. She has lived in Australia for the past four years and worked for Greenpeace for the last two.

Despite the fact that all six Britons – including three from the South West – were released on bail, much of the attention has been focused on Alex. In a letter sent to her parents in October she detailed her struggle to cope with life in an Arctic jail. "Being in prison is like slowly dying," she wrote, in a letter that put her at the heart of the campaign to free those held. "You literally wish your life away and mark off the days."

Iain Rogers, from Exeter, and videographer Kieron Bryan, from Shebbear were also thrown in jail.

Mr Bryan met Alex for the first time as they boarded the Arctic Sunrise, only to discover that they had grown up a few miles from each other in North Devon.

"I saw a picture of her in court looking so upset and that was really moving and really hard to take," he said, "but I kind of expected her to stay strong."

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