THE York parents of would-be human shield Antoinette McCormick fear she has reached Baghdad - only hours before the bombing of Iraq by American and British forces is expected to start.

John McCormick said Antoinette had phoned him at 5pm yesterday to say that, after a delay, she was about to begin the long land journey from Amman in Jordan to the Iraqi capital.

She and a group of other prospective human shields were intending to travel to Iraq on tourist visas, but felt they might have trouble crossing the border.

Mr McCormick, of Huntington Road, said he and his wife, Mairi, had heard nothing more, leaving them to believe she had now got into Iraq. "As a father, I am appalled at what she is doing. I am pleased she is committed to something that deeply, but just wish it was a commitment to something else.

"I feel it's an intellectual failure, but an emotional triumph."

He said he had previously considered travelling to Jordan in an attempt to persuade his daughter to come home, but felt he would not have had long enough to obtain a visa and travel there in time.

Antoinette, financed in her mission by York Quakers, has wanted for several weeks to become a human shield in Iraq in a bid to avert American and British bombing raids. She abandoned her plans at one stage, saying she believed she might be a liability to other shields, but then changed her mind - only to find no more human shields were being officially sent out because of concerns they were being used as "pawns" by Saddam Hussein.

She emailed the Evening Press last week to say she now planned to go in on a tourist visa.

She said: "I remember my father saying to me in answer, when I wondered aloud how to answer the press should they ask what we would do if used as pawns by Saddam's regime.

"He answered, the principle is the same; we should not bomb Iraq. And I was satisfied. And I am still.

"Therefore, being moved, so touched by my friends who are living at the 'sites' to which they are deployed, moved so much I am in tears, ruined in my heart by the betrayal of our country of all I believe in, I'm going as a shield to Iraq.

"I am sure I could be hurt, but I love these people. I've been 'in the rear, with the beer', and I want to be with the people I love who have gone as soldiers of the peace. If they die, I don't want to live - let us be honest, we either own up to it and help out or face it, we are cowards.

"So I'm going in as a 'tourist', on a tourist visa, since Baghdad no longer accepts shields from Amman. I'll go to the Palestine hotel and do my best to learn the truth, but I intend to stay."

Updated: 10:50 Tuesday, March 18, 2003