Conservative Party leader William Hague cancelled a scheduled photo-call with his Kensington by-election candidate Michael Portillo this afternoon (Monday, 22nd November), after he received a frantic phone message from party minders to alert him that gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell had again ambushed Mr. Portillo, this time outside Kensington Fire Station.
Mr. Hague’s car, which was only two blocks away from the Fire Station when he received the warning, did an abrupt U-turn and headed back to Conservative Central Office. Party officials then announced to the bemused and unconvinced press pack that Mr. Hague had an unexpected commitment, which forced him to cancel his appearance with Mr. Portillo.
Mr. Tatchell had sneaked through the press scrum, breaching the Tory party and police security cordon, to stand right next to Mr. Portillo and ask him: “If elected an MP, will you vote for an equal age of consent? Will you vote for the repeal of Section 28?”.
On turning to see Mr. Tatchell right beside him, Mr. Portillo looked visibly shocked and annoyed. “The blood drained from his face. He looked horrified and furious that he had been upstaged by my awkward, unscheduled questions”, said Tatchell. “Mr. Portillo refused to give an answer on how he would vote on issues of gay equality.”
Mr. Tatchell was then bundled away by Mr. Portillo’s minder Mr. Michael Morley, son of ex-Miss World boss Eric Morley. Some journalists, and a passing member of the public, complained that Mr. Tatchell was being assaulted and unlawfully detained. But the police stood by and did nothing, allowing Mr. Tatchell to be grabbed, shoved and restrained. At one point, Mr. Morely knocked Mr. Tatchell to the ground.
Mr. Tatchell later queried: “Does Mr. Portillo approve of these strong-arm methods? Did he and Conservative Central Office authorise for me to be grabbed, shoved, muzzled, knocked to the ground, and held against my will?”
As Mr. Morley tackled him, Mr. Tatchell called out to the police for help: “Will you police officers stop these people manhandling me?”. The police ignored his appeal for protection.
The incident was filmed by Channel Four News and broadcast on 26th November, corroborating Mr. Tatchell’s version of events.
Mr. Tatchell later expressed dissatisfaction at the police inaction. “They seemed disinterested in protecting me against Mr. Morely’s manhandling”.
Police at the scene later refused to investigate Mr. Tatchell’s complaints against Mr. Morely.
Mr. Portillo was rushed into the Fire Station to avoid further questions from Mr. Tatchell.
Within minutes of the incident, three police cars and three police vans pulled up outside the Fire Station.
“What offence was I committing to warrant such a heavy police response?”, asked Mr. Tatchell.
“How does the Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, justify the behaviour of his officers? Did his force act in a partisan way which made them, in effect, agents of the Conservative campaign?
“This is not impartial enforcement of the law”, said Mr. Tatchell. “Why are the police siding with the Conservatives by sending three vans and three cars to prevent me from asking Mr. Portillo a question?”
Despite the heavy police presence, Mr. Tatchell still managed to get to a partly opened Fire Station door. He shouted through, where firefighters were being addressed by Mr. Portillo inside: “Mr. Portillo, do you advocate discrimination in the fire service as well as supporting discrimination in the armed forces? Do you think that lesbian and gay officers in the fire service should be discriminated against?.”
Faced with Mr. Tatchell’s continued questioning and a huge press posse outside, Mr. Portillo was apparently too scared to leave via the front entrance of the Fire Station. His minders and the police spirited him out of a back entrance over roof tops and down fire escapes.
“It was a humiliating, degrading exit for the would-be leader of the Conservative Party”, said Mr. Tatchell. “Portillo is so afraid of me asking him questions that he relies on his heavies and the police to stop me getting near him, and then he scuttles ignominiously out the rear entrance.
“Whatever happened to free speech? People should be able to quiz candidates on their policies without being manhandled. Such thuggish behaviour is unacceptable in a democratic election”, said Mr. Tatchell.