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Hunt protesters trial under way

SECURITY STAFF feared MPs were under terrorist attack when pro-hunt demonstrators led by the son of the rock star Bryan Ferry stormed the House of Commons, a court heard on Monday.

There were scenes of "utter confusion, chaos and panic" when eight men, following a plan masterminded by Otis Ferry, disrupted the second reading of the Fox Hunting Bill in September last year, whilst a huge demonstration took place in Parliament Square, it was claimed.

Sylvia Heal, the deputy Speaker, suspended the sitting as doorkeepers grappled with the intruders, five of whom made it into the chamber. In evidence at Bow Street magistrates' court, Mrs Heal told the court that she feared the men were armed and was concerned for the safety of Alun Michael and Elliot Morley, the two ministers taking part in the debate. "Although I could see that the young men who entered the chamber had nothing in their hands, I could not be sure they did not have something in their pockets or around their body. Nor could I be sure that this particular incident was not perhaps a distraction for something else that might follow," she said.

Daniel Scanlon, a doorkeeper, said he grabbed Robert Thame, a professional polo player, who was sitting in the Prime Minister's seat. "He just would not let go. I managed to get one arm free and pull him and we got into a fight. I was trying to restrain him and he was kicking out quite violently," Mr Scanlon said.

The court heard evidence from a police interview in which Mr Thame described the rush into the chamber as a "full-on charge". Another of the accused, John Holliday, 42, a huntsman, said: "I was facing the Labour benches and I told them they were a disgrace to democracy."

Simon Clements, for the prosecution, said Mr Ferry, 22, was the "prime organiser" of the protest which had benefited from his "substantial planning", even tipping off a BBC Newsnight journalist in advance - although the journalist did not convey this information to the House of Commons Security staff, earning the BBC the condemnation of the Government.

He said the men had acted in a disorderly manner by barging past the doorkeepers. "If they had stopped at that point, they would have succeeded in making their protest and not committing a criminal offence," said Mr Clements.

On the day of the protest - which coincided with a 15,000-strong demonstration in Parliament Square - the men, disguised as builders, made their way past security at the main St Stephen's entrance. Once inside they discarded their builders' outfits to reveal suits. They made their way to the Ladies Stairwell past an ‘out of action’ security door where they shed their jackets to reveal T-shirts bearing the slogan ‘fcuk the Bill’. They were only challenged as they jogged along a corridor leading directly to the Commons chamber.

Three of the defendants, David Redvers, 34, a horse breeder from Hartpury, Gloucestershire, Andrew Elliott, 43, an auctioneer from Ledbury, Herefordshire, and Richard Wakeham, 36, a surveyor from York, were stopped.

Harrassment

The remaining five, Mr Ferry, from Eaton Mascot, Shrewsbury, Nicholas Wood, 41, a chef from Lacock, Wiltshire, Mr Holliday, from Ledbury, Herefordshire, and Mr Thame, from Maidenhead, Berkshire, stepped into the chamber from behind the Speaker's chair. The final defendant, Luke Tomlinson, 28, a close friend of Prince William and Prince Harry who was excused attending court tomorrow to allow him to represent England at polo, made his way in through a separate entrance. They are all charged with an offence under the Public Order Act, which alleges that their behaviour was "disorderly" and caused "harassment, alarm and distress". They deny the charges.

The court also heard what the defendants had told police in interviews after their arrest. Robert Thame told detectives: "I shot round the big table past the mace, then I saw Alun Michael (the rural affairs minister).

"I ran up to him and sat down and said to him ’Right then, let’s have a debate now, let’s ask you a few questions and get some home truths’.I didn’t get much out of him and then one of the old boys came over and he was a gentle old boy, I played a bit hard to drag but then I let him drag me.

"An old Conservative MP came down and shouted ’You bloody idiots, what the hell do you think you’re doing, you bloody idiots?’ I noticed he was wearing a British Field Sports Society tie and I thought ’Oh, God, we haven’t pleased everybody’."

Also in a police interview after he was arrested Mr Ferry justified his actions, saying: "I think we made it perfectly clear there was nothing threatening going on. I had not picked up a plank of wood or anything.

"It was my way of getting my feelings across so that people would actually listen. You can write letters and go on peaceful demonstrations but nobody listens. This is a very serious issue. It is about lives and livelihoods. They simply cannot grasp the idea that these are lives they are going to ruin, that they are completely ruining lives."

He said his anger had been particularly directed at Alun Michael. "I expressed, without swearing or being rude, my utter disgust at the way he was handling things, that he knew full well what he was doing was unjust."

The trial continued from Tuesday this week.