Bottomley abandons speech amid protests

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The Independent Online
VIRGINIA BOTTOMLEY, the Secretary of State for Health, was last night forced to abandon a planned speech when demonstrators stormed the stage she was on and hurled eggs.

Members of the Public Service Fightback campaign, protesting against a 1.5 per cent pay rise and cuts, greeted Mrs Bottomley with a chorus of abuse when she took her seat beside the podium at the London School of Economics.

Sir Peter Parker, the former British Rail chief who is chairman of the school, tried to restore order as Mrs Bottomley sat and smiled through the onslaught. But a hail of paper missiles began to land on the stage, while an egg hit the front of the platform and another spattered at her feet.

From the balcony, nurses in uniform unfurled a banner protesting at cuts in the National Health Service, particularly in London where a number of hospitals are due to close.

Mrs Bottomley quickly departed the stage, still smiling, when a second wave of protestors burst into the main auditorium and leapt on to the stage.

Brid Hill, a nurse from University College Hospital in London, ran to the lectern and began to deliver her own speech over the public address system. The authorities appeared to have been taken by surprise, and police officers who had been outside to marshal an earlier demonstration were not on hand to restore order inside.

After a few minutes, Sir Peter told the noisy crowd that Mrs Bottomley had left and would not now deliver her planned lecture. The announcement was met by victorious cheers.

Mrs Bottomley was due to hint that in order to improve efficiency, there might be job losses among NHS executives, whose growing number has been much criticised.

Outside, Sir Peter expressed his annoyance over the affair. 'It was just so unseemly,' he said. 'We have a reputation for free speech here. I feel that this was not right.'

(Photograph omitted)