FOR 100 days he was apart from his loved ones, spending Christmas Day separated from his family.

But Greenpeace activist Phil Ball has welcomed in the New Year with his nearest and dearest after being released from a Russian prison.

The 42-year-old, from Milton-under-Wychwood, was one of Greenpeace’s Arctic 30, held prisoner by the Russian authorities after trying to board a Russian oil platform to protest about drilling in the Arctic.

He spent two months in a Russian cell after being charged with piracy in September before being freed to await his court hearing, staying in a St Petersburg hotel.

After 100 days in Russia, he was finally reunited with his relieved family after being granted an amnesty from charges.

He was met by brother Steve at London’s St Pancras railway station on December 27.

He was greeted by his mother, Ruth, at Charlbury train station, before an emotional reunion at midnight with his partner and three children, two boys aged nine and seven and a daughter aged three, who Mr Ball wishes to remain unnamed.

Mr Ball, who went to The Marlborough School in Woodstock, said: “It has been an emotional time for everybody at home but it’s great to be able to get back to normal.

“The kids were reallly excited too.

“It wasn’t tearful. It was just great to be with them again and give them a big hug.”

He said he was still drained from his tough ordeal in a Russian cell, which he described as a “horrible place”.

The Arctic 30 group were detained in the Russian port of Murmansk and questioned before being transferred to a St Petersburg prison in November.

They were released on bail about 10 days later.

He said he feared the worst when he potentially faced 15 years in a Russian cell and said he could only relax once he had been given an amnesty from the charges.

But he said the support from family and friends kept him going and he is now more committed than ever to carrying on campaigning.

He said: “I am more determined than before to try and make a change. I will continue to campaign on the subject of drilling in the Arctic.

“But I won’t be climbing an oil rig in Russia again. I don’t want to go back to Russia again.”

Mr Ball, who is a freelance cameraman, said he had learnt a great deal about himself during the experience.

Brother Steve, 44, from Enstone, said: “Obviously it was a relief. We applauded the activists as they came in.

“I let him have a chat with the press and then when no one was watching I went round and we hugged. I was just really pleased he was safe.”