Leading article

Mark Field fully deserved suspension over manhandling protestor

Judgment calls have regularly to be made in democratic societies about balancing the right to protest against the need to maintain reasonable levels of security around public figures.

While some complex issues can arise along the way, there can be no doubt that the British foreign office minister Mark Field crossed a line when he manhandled a woman Greenpeace member at a black tie dinner at London's Mansion House.

Outgoing prime minister Theresa May plainly had little option other than to suspend Mr Field from his post yesterday and his political future remains very much open to question.

It helps that he has already expressed regret for the way in which he grabbed Janet Barker as she and other climate activists attempted to interrupt a speech by Chancellor Philip Hammond.

However, Mr Field's claim that he was ` for a split second, genuinely worried she might have been armed' does not stand up to serious scrutiny.

Ms Barker, wearing a dress and carrying a handbag, was hardly a threatening figure, and Mr Field's actions in pushing her roughly against a pillar and then frogmarching her out of the hall were aggressive and unjustified.

It was astonishing to hear the former Northern Ireland Office minister Sir Peter Bottomley, congratulate Mr Field and compare the case to the appalling murder of the Ulster Unionist MP the Rev Robert Bradford back in 1981.

An IRA gang burst into a community centre at Finaghy in south Belfast and assassinated Mr Bradford and caretaker Ken Campbell using submachine guns in circumstances which could not have been further removed from the peaceful demonstration on Thursday night.

Mr Field is fortunate that Ms Barker is not pressing for criminal charges to be brought and has instead suggested that he should consider attending anger management classes.

If he listens to her advice, and follows it up with a more fulsome apology while ignoring the intervention from Sir Peter, he may still have some prospect of rescuing his career.

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