Foreign Office minister Mark Field has been suspended by Downing Street after video footage showed him manhandling a female climate change protester who had interrupted a City of London event.
Widely shared footage taken at Thursday night’s Mansion House dinner showed Mr Field removing one of several dozen Greenpeace activists who had interrupted the event by pushing her against a column before taking hold of the back of her neck and marching her out of the room.
“Theresa May has seen the footage and found it very concerning,” said a spokesperson for the outgoing British prime minister.
Janet Barker, the Greenpeace member who was grabbed by Mr Field, told the BBC the suspended minister’s actions were “really over the top”, and that while she had expected resistance to the protest, “I didn’t expect to be grabbed by the neck.”
Other male guests at the prestigious event which included chancellor Philip Hammond’s annual speech to City grandees, also handled female protesters roughly, people who attended said.
At 9pm on Thursday evening, female Greenpeace activists dressed in red evening gowns and sashes that said “climate emergency” entered the Mansion House unhindered by security staff. The environmental group said they wanted to give a speech about climate change. Some carried rape alarms as a symbol of how they felt the environment was being violated.
When they entered the room, at least half a dozen male dinner guests other than Mr Field got up from their seats to physically apprehend them by pushing, pulling and other displays of force.
“I was blocked and taken out of the room by a man who held my arm very forcefully and twisted my skin,” said 30-year-old Londoner Hannah Martin, who works for Greenpeace and joined Thursday evening’s protest.
Another male guest, she said, took a rape alarm that “one of our group, an elderly woman” was brandishing and “held it up against her ear while it was going off”.
Mr Field’s position is now under review by both the Conservative party and the Cabinet Office’s proprietary and ethics team. “He will be suspended as a minister today whilst the investigation takes place,” the spokesperson said.
City of London police said it had received “a small number of third-party reports of allegations of an assault taking place at the [Mansion House] event”, although the reports had not come from the female protester herself.
Mr Field said in a statement to ITV that he deeply regretted the incident. He was also quoted as saying that “in the confusion many guests understandably felt threatened and when one protester rushed past me towards the top table I instinctively reacted”.
“There was no security present and I was for a split-second genuinely worried she might have been armed,” he said.
The City of London Corporation, which oversees Mansion House, the Lord Mayor’s residence, said: “We are investigating last night’s breach of security and will be reviewing arrangements for future events.”
“No Mansion House security staff helped us when we were being manhandled,” Ms Martin of Greenpeace said. “But the most shocking thing was when Mark Field smashed that woman against a pillar and grabbed her by the neck, not one guest at the dinner stood up to help her.”
Two male guests who were at the event said diners had feared for their safety in light of attacks on politicians such as Brexit party leader Nigel Farage. One male guest said the neo-Nazi murder three years ago of Labour MP Jo Cox was evidence that “politicians can be victims of violence”.
But Huw van Steenis, a senior adviser to Mr Carney who attended the dinner, said: “From where I was sitting, it looked a completely peaceful protest, making a very important point.”
Peter Bottomley, a Conservative MP, “congratulated” Mr Field for intervening. “She may have been harmless, others won’t be,” he told the BBC. “Not intervening often has a cost and if it becomes a fashion there will be casualties.”
However, some opposition MPs expressed outrage. Chuka Umunna, the former Labour and Change UK MP who recently joined the Liberal Democrats, described Mr Field’s conduct as “totally unacceptable”.
Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted: “She posed no credible threat from what I can see. There is very little else that could justify this and anyone can see that this could have been done without physical contact. Every MP has to deal with protest and conflict; it is done with words.”
Mr Field, 54, has held several frontbench roles since he became MP for the Cities of London and Westminster in 2001, including opposition whip, shadow minister for London and shadow financial secretary to the Treasury. In 2017, with his party in government, he became minister of state for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Office.
Additional reporting by Jim Pickard