Christchurch: Tories upset by wheelchair protesters: Disruption blunts Howard's attempt to rally forces

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PROTESTERS in wheelchairs disrupted a Tory by-election meeting in Christchurch with the Home Secretary yesterday.

Michael Howard had been brought in to get the Tories' second week of the campaign back on the offensive, on law and order. But amid unprecedented scenes, Rob Hayward, the Tory candidate, was shouted down.

Some Tory supporters shouted 'They've been bussed in' from the back of the village hall in St Leonards, a community of ranch-style bungalows which helped to make Christchurch a solid Tory seat.

Earlier, Mr Hayward had met about 20 protesters in an attempt to head off their threatened day of action. But the disabled protesters dogged his campaign, picketing an 'at home' in a sleepy avenue of bungalows and protesting outside his campaign headquarters.

The protesters, part of a group called Direct Action, travelled from London, Coventry, Bristol and Southampton. They targeted Mr Hayward because as the former MP for Kingswood, Bristol, he 'talked out' the Civil Rights for Disabled People Bill, a backbench measure moved by Alf Morris, the Labour spokesman on the disabled, last year.

Rory Heap, from London, who is blind, told Mr Hayward: 'You know damn well what you did was wrong . . . When are you going to apologise?'

Mr Hayward, who said the Bill would not have met their expectations, was eventually ushered out of the room by a side door by John Butterfill, his minder. John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, escaped unrecognised as the protesters returned to their cars.

Mr MacGregor had been called up to answer the attacks over the privatisation of British Rail, which was described as 'a poll tax on wheels' by Robert Adley, the Tory MP whose death caused the by-election.

The Home Secretary sounded a new note of defiance from the Tory campaign. He threatened to 'crack down' on hooligans, New Age travellers and ravers. He clearly omitted mentioning the return of the death penalty, which Mr Hayward and the right-wing Tories of Christchurch support, because he had voted against it.

But Mr Howard, one of the leading anti-federalists in the Cabinet, played the Euro-card, accusing the Liberal Democrats of being 'bootlickers for Brussels'. But Diana Maddock, the Liberal Democrat candidate, was elsewhere, garnering more votes over tea with Earl Russell, a Liberal Democrat peer.

1992 election result: R Adley (Con) 36,627; Rev D Bussey (LD) 13,612; A Lloyd (Lab) 6,997; J Barratt (NLP) 243; A Wareham (CRA) 175. C Maj 23,015. Electorate 71.438. Turnout 80.7 per cent.