The plight of three former investment bankers charged with profiteering from the Enron collapse may not seem the most obvious to take to the streets. But their fate - extradition to the US - moved about a hundred businessmen, and they were mainly men, to march through central London yesterday in protest at their treatment.
They carried briefcases not banners, mobile phones not missiles. Their destination? The Home Office to deliver a letter to the Home Secretary John Reid condemning the treatment of the so-called NatWest Three (NW3), who this week lost their two-year court battle to avoid extradition using a treaty signed in 2003 to help the US fight terrorists.
To the bemusement of sunbathers in St James's Park, the pinstriped protesters, dressed in all shades of office grey, set a brisk pace from outside the Institute of Directors to their destination on Marsham Street. The march may have lacked the fanfare of most street demonstrations - indeed, since it took place within the Government's new exclusion zone around Westminster it was not, strictly speaking, a demonstration - but the message of the men dressed by Savile Row was not less heartfelt for being largely silent.
Sir Martin Jacomb, a City grandee who used to head Barclays' investment bank and famously once described insider dealing as a "victimless crime", summed up the feeling of the marchers with his denunciation of Tony Blair. "The first duty of any government is to protect its citizens' liberties. On this occasion it hasn't done so."
The petition, signed by about 200 businessmen including Sir Digby Jones, the outgoing director general of the Confederation of British Industry, Sir Francis Mackay, the soon to be ex-chairman of Compass, Michael Spencer the Icap founder, and Miles Templeman, who heads the IoD, was delivered to the Home Office by Karl Watkin, a co-organiser. The only one of the NatWest Three to attend was David Bermingham, although several of their former banking colleagues turned up to lend support. Mr Watkin, the founder of the now defunct Just 2 Clicks, said: "I'm an international businessman. I was appalled to discover what this Government had signed on our behalf."
Paul Myners, the departing chairman of Marks and Spencer was spotted at the start of the march, but he insisted he was just passing by. "I came along to pull the leg of a friend of mine because he has never been on a demonstration in his life. Other attendees admitted it was their first demonstration since the anti-Vietnam war marches of the 1960s. Alex Worrall, the chairman of ThyssenKrupp UK, said: "I'm the furthest from a terrorist you can get. Yet I could be extradited for something that may be legal here but is illegal there [the US]."
In little more than 30 minutes all the excitement was over. As one of the marchers put it speaking into his mobile phone from outside the Home Office: "Where am I? I'm with a civilised bunch of protesters."
The marchers may not have taken long to deliver their letter. But the retort from a Home Office spokesman was that it could take rather longer for their message to get across. The Home Office insists citizens have adequate protection under the current arrangements and it is in no hurry to readdress the issue.Reuse content