For bankers, taxmen and corporate executives sheltering from a world of seemingly never-ending protest at their bonuses and financial affairs, the black-tie City dinner would appear to be the final refuge. No more.
Disguised in tuxedos as sharp as they come, a well-spoken band of undercover protesters known as The Intruders are planning to disrupt high-class gala events across the City – after gatecrashing a dinner to present an award for services to "corporate tax avoidance" to the UK's former top taxman. In the opening move of what could become a new direct action anti-corporate campaign, eight protesters, including two former Oxford students, snuck inside a lavish dinner at a corporate tax planning conference, where the former HMRC boss Dave Hartnett was giving a speech.
After presenting Mr Hartnett with a spoof "Golden Handshake" gong, the group were ejected by a dinner guest who called them "trespassing scum". A video of their exploits went viral yesterday on YouTube. Under Mr Hartnett's watch, HMRC was accused of agreeing "sweetheart deals" with major corporations such as Goldman Sachs and Vodafone. A Public Accounts Committee report criticised Mr Hartnett for being "too cosy" with big business. He was accused of signing off on a deal that saved Goldman Sachs £20m in tax payments and another which cut Vodafone's tax bill from £8bn to £1.25bn.
Presenting Mr Hartnett with "the lifetime achievement award for services to corporate tax avoidance", Stephen Reid, 26, the leader of the group, initially received a round of applause from dinner guests who did not realise it was a stunt.
But they were ejected when a dinner guest, thought to be a senior tax lawyer, told them to leave "before we set the dogs on you". The same man later refers to the group as "trespassing scum".
Yesterday The Intruders were revealed to be a group of eight friends including two former Oxford students, an Oxford Green Party councillor and a columnist for The Guardian newspaper. Members of the group have previously been involved the UK Uncut and Occupy protest movements. Mr Reid, who works for the think-tank New Economics Foundation, and is a former student at Wadham College, Oxford, said the protesters were "outraged to discover that Mr Hartnett, who was responsible for collecting tax from these corporations, could be found sharing port and cheese with their executives".
Mr Hartnett, who retired earlier this year, was speaking at the Practical Tax Planning conference, hosted by a firm called Tax Chambers. The conference, which cost £854 to attend, promised "to examine, in the congenial atmosphere of an historic Oxford College, practical solutions to the ever changing fiscal complications to modern life".
Protesters were able to walk straight into the Great Hall of New College, Oxford, where the black-tie dinner reception was being held.
Last night Mr Reid told The Independent: "Another thing we've talked about is dinners in the City, There's an active and lucrative entertainment industry in the City, whisking bankers away to play polo and shoot pheasants. It will be interesting to see if we could find our way into one of those events."