Highgate poet and animal rights activist found dead on Hampstead Heath

A 61-year-old Highgate poet and animal rights activist who battled mental illness for more than 40 years has been found dead on Hampstead Heath.

Emerald McKenty’s body was discovered by joggers in Athlone House Gardens at 10.50am on Friday (March 2).

Police found a note, tablets and alcohol on the ground next to her.

Her partner and full-time carer Rick Ferry, 60, who lived with Ms McKenty in Holmesdale Road, said she had tried to slash her wrists with scissors just days before she was found at the beauty spot.

He said her obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – which sometimes meant Ms McKenty washed for six hours before feeling clean – had left her feeling increasingly depressed in recent years.

“She had a great zest for life and was a colourful character, but her OCD left her feeling isolated and it limited Emerald in how much she could leave the house,” said Mr Ferry, who has known Ms McKenty since the early 1980s.

“She was lonely and depressed. She didn’t want to get older, she didn’t want to finish up in an old people’s home.

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“Even though she suffered from mental health and physical problems, she was a pioneer.”

Birmingham-born Ms McKenty was an animal rights activist in the 1980s, campaigning against the wearing of fur.

She helped orchestrate demonstrations outside the Barbican when Princess Diana and Prince Charles were visiting.

She also made national headlines in 1983 when she and Mr Ferry stormed the stage at a Miss United Kingdom event to protest against the show’s sponsor.

In 2010 Ms McKenty, who helped run a poetry club in Chats Palace in Hackney, penned a poem for a campaign to save a Norway Maple outside her home which Haringey Council was threatening to chop down.

Part of the poem, which was pinned to the tree, read: “Let thy tree continue to grow. May it grow tall and proud. Pray don’t let them fell it down.”

Sue Hessel, spokeswoman for vulnerable groups for Haringey residents associations, said people with mental health issues are among the most overlooked.

“The plug has been pulled on this group probably more than any other by the health service and especially in Haringey because people with mental health issues can’t shout the loudest,” she said.

“There is pitifully little for them in terms of support and this is just desperately sad.”

An inquest into Ms McKenty’s death is due to be opened at St Pancras Coroner’s Court tomorrow (Friday, March 9).