A prankster who handed Theresa May a P45 during her keynote conference speech is believed to have gained access by posing as a professional photographer.
Simon Brodkin, who performs under the name Lee Nelson, could be seen with a camera in a pit of photographers in front of the Prime Minister’s lectern in the moments leading up to the stunt.
The Independent understands that Mr Brodkin was believed to be a “bona fide delegate” when he was admitted to the tightly guarded Conservative Party conference.
His ability to get within inches of the Prime Minister and cabinet members has sparked questions over security at the event, which has been increased amid a heightened terror threat.
Mr Brodkin put his camera down before picking up a fake P45 – the tax form given to employees resigning or being sacked – and handing it to Mrs May in view of thousands of delegates.
In scenes being broadcast on live television, he was escorted out by security guards while being booed by the audience, who shouted: “Out! Out! Out!”
While being taken out of the hall, Mr Brodkin continued the prank by telling following journalists Boris Johnson had told him to give Ms May the form.
“Boris said – in you know one of those corridor meetings – ‘do me a favour son, give Theresa this’…it was a P45 from Boris,” he added.
Theresa May’s spokesperson said Mr Brodkin had been arrested on suspicion of breach of the peace and The Independent saw him being handcuffed.
Greater Manchester Police announced that it would be reviewing the accreditation process following the incident.
Chief Superintendent John O’Hare said: “Earlier today a man was detained by conference security during the Prime Minister’s speech.
“Officers attended and the man was arrested to prevent a breach of the peace and was released a short time later.
“The man had legitimate accreditation which granted him access to the conference site.
“In light of this we will be reviewing the accreditation process with the Conservative Party.
“Even with accreditation, everyone at the conference goes through airport-style searches before being allowed entry to the site.”
A spokesperson for the Conservative Party confirmed the review was underway without providing details, adding: “In light of the arrest during the Prime Minister’s speech we are working with the police to review the accreditation process and security arrangements for party conference.”
George Freeman, a Conservative MP who heads the Prime Minister’s policy board, was among those raising alarm over the intrusion.
“There should be some very serious questions – that could have been a terrorist,” he said. “My understanding is he’s a comedian, he’s often used by the BBC, and questions will be asked about how he was allowed to get that close.”
G4S has been charged with perimeter security and checking delegates’ identification at the conference, while another private firm is responsible for internal security and Greater Manchester Police has mounted a wide-ranging operation to protect the venue amid a heightened terrror threat.
There is airport-style security at all entrances and exits, where delegates are required to put their possessions through scanners.
Mr Brodkin was previously arrested for trespassing at a Fifa press conference in 2015, where he showered Sepp Blatter with money while telling him: “Sepp, this is for North Korea in 2026.”
The comedian also appears to have posed as an official delegate for that prank, wearing a suit, tie and name badge.
Mr Brodkin was released by Swiss authorities and has since targeted Philip Green by hanging a sign reading “BHS Destroyer” on the billionaire’s superyacht, and disrupted then US presidential candidate Donald Trump at a ribbon-cutting ceremony by attempting to hand out golf balls with a swastika printed on them.
The comedian also stormed the Glastonbury stage during Kanye West’s set in June 2015 wearing a T-shirt with “Lee-Zus” on it before being removed by security.
His latest stunt came amid criticism of the Foreign Secretary over controversial remarks made about a Libyan city that was overrun by Isis, as well as an article laying out his vision on Brexit that was seen as a leadership challenge.
The Foreign Secretary has denied disloyalty towards the Prime Minister, who has repeatedly been urged to sack him.
Mr Brodkin’s stunt happened just moments after Mrs May apologised to her party for her performance in the botched campaign for this year’s snap general election.
She admitted the campaign was “too scripted, too presidential” and said she took responsibility for its shortcomings.
The Prime Minister’s speech continued to be beset with difficulties as she coughed and had difficulty speaking, with letters falling off a sign behind her that eventually read “Building a country that works or everyon [sic]”.
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