Bruised and still shaken, Janet Barker is incredulous at the violent reaction of the Foreign Office minister Mark Field to her peaceful protest with fellow Greenpeace activists at the chancellor’s Mansion House speech.
However, she has no plans to press criminal charges over the physical assault. “I think it is something best dealt with in the court of opinion,” she said, while welcoming his suspension as a minister.
Barker said she had been trying to deliver leaflets to guests on Thursday evening when she was grabbed by the neck and arm and forcibly ejected by Field, despite her pleas for him to release his grip and allow her to walk from the dining hall.
“I remember a chair being pushed out. Then being shoved. I was saying, over and over: ‘This is a peaceful protest, a peaceful protest.’ I was saying it quite audibly, certainly loud enough.”
She could not see the man’s face, and had no idea who he was: “I just knew it was a guy. And that he was very, very angry. You could hear that in the tone of his voice.
“I knew he wanted me out,” said Barker, 40, who was carrying a phone and a small handbag. “ I thought if I just keep saying ‘peaceful protest, peaceful protest’ you hope to defuse the situation. But there was no diffusion in his anger.
“He continued to grip me by the neck and the arm all the way to the door of the building. Then, when we got to the door, he shoved me outside on to the street, and said: ‘This is what happens when people like you disturb our dinner.’”
Barker, from Builth Wells, Powys, has been a Greenpeace volunteer for many years and had entered the dinner with 20-30 activists who were hoping to deliver a speech about the climate crisis.
Predominantly women, they wore red dresses with sashes stating: “Climate emergency”.
“We wanted to enter in a very dignified way,” Barker said. “We were respectful. We even ensured that our dresses were the correct length, because women who attend the Mansion House have to have a specific length.”
They entered as “a block of red”, said Barker, who works in environmental education and homelessness prevention, and runs a small holding and ethical angora business. “The doors were open as we were going in, and when security staff clocked what was happening they did start to close the doors.”
Each had their roles, and hers was to deliver copies of the climate emergency speech to guests in the form of sealed letters.
Barker, whose Greenpeace activism has included joining a protest against dams on the Tapajós River in the Brazilian Amazon in support of the Munduruku people, said she believed she was one of the last to get in.
She was to walk to the right of the room with several others, but they had been locked out. Other protesters, walking to the left of the room, were being detained by security staff, so she found herself alone.
She thought if she walked around the back of the diners, she could hand a copy of the speech to Philip Hammond. “Nobody bothered me. It was fine.”
She estimates she was about 10 metres from Hammond, just approaching the right-hand corner of the top table. “Then a gentleman in front pushed his seat out and just grabbed me.”
Asked if she was carrying or doing anything that could possibly have indicated she might be armed and threatening, she said: “I had a phone, and a tiny handbag, which was open and full of leaflets. The only thing I was armed with was peer-reviewed science.”
She made no sudden movements, she said. “I was walking past him just like a waitress or waiter would.”
Field refused to relinquish his grip, she said. “I kept saying: “Look, just let go. I will walk on my own. I am not about to start a wrestling match with you. I will walk.’ He said: ‘I’m not letting go until you are out of this building.’”
She said no one came to her defence. “I think people were taken aback, like ‘What?’”
She said Field’s anger shocked her; it was palpable in his voice and grip. “The pressure on my neck never eased all the way down the stairs and until we were outside.” The inside of the top of her right arm was still red on Friday morning.
Once at the door, he shoved her with such force, she said, she struggled not to fall over. A woman, also at the door, told her: “You’re not welcome here.”
Once outside, Barker realised she was trembling.
“I think he needs to seriously look at why he reacted like that, why his anger went from 0-60 in 0.2 seconds. He needs anger management. Because I worry maybe he’s on a bit of a simmer all the time, that just one or two things might tip him over, especially for him to be like that towards a woman. It makes me wonder what else might trigger him off, and who else might be at the receiving end,” she said.
“I want him to think about what he did, and why he did it. And address his behaviour.”
Barker said she had anticipated verbal resistance. “We thought we might be ushered out, politely.”
Looking back on the incident, she said it was the authoritarianism that angered her. “That’s what I felt. He was very domineering. He seemed to think he was in the right.
“Those in power are very privileged. They are very disconnected with the everyday struggles of everybody else. And I really felt that was apparent in his behaviour. They are in power. They believe they are right, and I was a silly little girl.
“I still find is unbelievable. We are in a climate emergency. Fossil fuels, the Greenland ice sheet is melting, the Himalayan ice caps are melting, there’s going to be massive water shortages in the future and they are worried about their dinner being disturbed.
“I think we should remember that protest is a legitimate part of our democracy. It helps us evolve. Good things come from it. Look at the suffragettes, India democracy and Gandhi, the Black Power movement.
“And behaviour like this is trying to crush it, and we will keep rising up, because we have got to.”