THIS is it – my final Last Word. After more than four years at The Comet, yesterday (Wednesday) was the end of an era for me as I move to pastures new.

Since my first piece for this column was published on April 10, 2008 – when I disagreed with animal rights activists campaigning for the release of a 55-year-old elephant from a circus – I have covered a lot of issues.

I have been critical of the actions of various bodies, groups and individuals, including the Government, councils, the police, health chiefs and schools. But the stand I am most proud of taking is that against the BNP.

It is also the viewpoint which has produced the most response – in agreement and in opposition in equal measure.

Happily, the bigoted group failed to make an impact at this year’s elections and today has no real presence in Comet country.

Admittedly, there are columns I do regret having written. In July 2008, for instance, I wrote a column under the headline ‘Pay Up and Shut Up’. It criticised residents in the Chells Manor area of Stevenage for appealing against a �40 monthly increase to their council tax bill because an error made in 1991 had been spotted.

I suggested they “stop moaning and be grateful for the period of time they have got away with paying less than they should have”.

It transpired later that some of the residents won their appeal. My opinion, therefore, was clearly wrong.

The most surprising response I have had to a column actually came late last month.

I felt sure Comet readers would agree when I wrote that the reaction to bank clerk Mary Bale dumping a cat in a wheelie bin was an overreaction.

I felt sure readers would agree that to liken her to notorious criminals such as Josef Fritzl and Ian Huntley – as happened on a website – was simply ridiculous.

But the fury at my comment that it was “only a cat” would suggest that pets are often put on a pedestal and their importance greatly exaggerated.

This column has been an eye-opener for me, and I feel privileged to have had a platform to write without restriction on whatever topics I wish.

It’s fair to say that my opinions have often been ill-received by readers, prompting a flurry of letters to counteract an argument or to tell me what an ill-educated, na�ve Neanderthal I am.

I have often been accused of being deliberately controversial, and I admit that I have been.

That does not mean my views have not been honestly held, but that I have favoured topics I felt would spark the most interest from readers and encourage their input.

Personal attacks aside, it is satisfying to have had readers engage with The Comet through Last Word – whatever their opinions. If I achieved little else, the element of debate is enough for me.