Page last updated at 16:34 GMT, Thursday, 7 August 2008 17:34 UK

'Relief' at Tibet protesters' return

By Nigel Pankhurst
BBC News, London City Airport

Lucy Fairbrother and Iain Thom return to UK
Iain Thom and Lucy Fairbrother returned to the joy of their supporters

British pro-Tibet protesters Lucy Fairbrother and Iain Thom returned to the UK to a relieved welcome from supporters and family.

On Wednesday, the pair had scaled a 120ft-high lighting pole in Beijing and unfurled banners in support of Tibet just two days ahead of the Olympic Games in China.

The pair's Thursday lunchtime arrival back at London City Airport on a connecting flight from Frankfurt came after they were arrested and deported by the Chinese authorities for disturbing public order.

An Olympics spokesman had described their action as unacceptable and "illegal".

A small group of supporters from Students for a Free Tibet had gathered to mark their return.

They were outnumbered by the ranks of the media who were squeezed behind a cordon in front of check-in and car hire desks in a corner next to the airport's international arrivals door.

Good wishes

Ugyan Norbu, carrying a large Tibetan flag, expressed his gratitude at what the protesters had done as he awaited their arrival.

"These people are working on behalf of the Tibetan people," he said.

It was a huge relief to see them come through arrivals because one fear was the Chinese would lock them up for a long time
Linda Fairbrother
Lucy Fairbrother's mother

"Their hearts, their feelings, represent the feelings of the Tibetan population."

Mr Norbu was clutching cream scarves which he was preparing to present to them - a symbol of Tibetan good wishes.

And what would he be saying to them?

"I will congratulate them and thank them," he said.

A steady flow of passengers passed through the arrivals doors - most looking bemused by the bank of photographers and cameramen, a few unable to resist a tongue-in-cheek wave.

The first of the protesters to emerge was 24-year-old Mr Thom, who was immediately mobbed by supporters amid shrieks and cheers.

Sporting a small amount of stubble, he looked relaxed in designer glasses, baggy stripped shirt and green combat trousers.

Lucy Fairbrother and Iain Thom return to UK
The protesters spoke to the media flanked by supporter Ugyan Norbu

A few seconds later 23-year-old Ms Fairbrother appeared to a similar reaction.

Now wearing their "welcome" scarves, the pair began to answer journalists' questions.

As the mass questioning wound down, another polite request to Ms Fairbrother for an interview brought the response: "Can I get a cup of tea first?"

She then sought a few quiet moments away from the spotlight with supporters and a cuppa in an open-plan cafe.

'Nerves and butterflies'

The welcome group included her mother Linda Fairbrother, who later described her feelings of anticipating her daughter's arrival home.

"When I was waiting for her to come through it was as if I was transported back 36 years for an exam, with the nerves and the butterflies.

"But I couldn't feel more proud of her. I was astounded at how clear the demonstration was.

"It was a huge relief to see them come through arrivals because one fear was the Chinese would lock them up for a long time.

"It was only when I saw her with my own eyes that I believed it."

The protesters believe that their actions were justified.

As Mr Thom put it: "Certainly it was worth it but the job is not done. Tibet remains an occupied territory."




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