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Commons powder attack on Blair

Scare after security staff had anthrax warning

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, left, looks up as the purple powder hits Blair in the back.
Tony Blair
Great Britain

LONDON, England (CNN) -- A protester hit British Prime Minister Tony Blair with a purple powder as he was speaking in the House of Commons, sparking major security fears.

A fathers' rights group, Fathers 4 Justice, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack. Police said two men were arrested.

Blair flinched as two powder missiles were thrown at him during Prime Minister's Questions. One of them hit Blair in the back, and some of the powder hit Chancellor Gordon Brown, who was sitting near Blair.

Later Speaker Michael Martin said the powder was harmless -- but ordered a review into the handling of the incident to see if proper procedures had been followed.

Commons authorities told CNN the powder thrown was blue corn flour.

The missiles were hurled from part of the public gallery reserved for guests of members of the House of Lords and House of Commons.

Later in a statement, the peer who had signed in the two men arrested, Baroness Golding -- formerly a Labour MP -- said: "I regret to say that it was two guests of mine who were responsible for the very serious incident in the Commons today.

"I have spoken to the Speaker offering my unreserved apologies to him and through him to my former colleagues in the Commons."

During the incident, a man in a suit was seen to stand up in part of the public gallery reserved for guests of the House of Lords and was heard to shout "do you realize" and "five years." A second man held up a poster.

Speaker Martin immediately suspended the weekly PMQs session. It was later declared abandoned, though parliament resumed a little more than an hour later.

Two men were grabbed by security officers and three police officers donned nuclear, biological and chemical warfare protection suits as the men were being questioned.


The incident is a huge embarrassment for parliament's security staff amid heightened terrorism alerts and the investigation is sure to examine both events leading up to, and reaction to, the attack.

The latest demonstration came just weeks after a screen was installed in front of the most of the public gallery after a previous demonstration against Blair and amid fears of a possible terrorist attack. But it did not cover the Lords' and Commons' guests' area.

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said: "It turned out to be a minor incident but there are now serious questions about how someone was able to get into the chamber and throw missiles at MPs -- despite the installation of a glass security screen only weeks ago.

"Many people will be saying, what if the protesters had thrown a bomb or anthrax or sarin. There will also be questions about why MPs were allowed to disperse after the attack when the correct thing to do -- if it had been a biological attack -- would have been to contain them."

MPs approved the security screen after Commons leader Peter Hain warned that spy chiefs had told the government of a specific threat to the Commons.

He said security officials had warned anthrax could be used.

After the attack Wednesday Martin ordered the immediate suspension of the rights of Lords to sign people into the House of Commons.

Crane protest

Fathers 4 Justice said two men had made their protest in the run-up to Father's Day on June 20, demanding equal rights for fathers.

The group campaigns for improved access to children for divorced and separated fathers and were behind a number of recent protests.

In November member David Chick, dressed as Spiderman, climbed atop a crane beside London's Tower Bridge, forcing police to close the busy traffic route and leading to huge traffic jams.

Four members of the group -- dressed as Spiderman, Superman, Batman and Robin -- also climbed Bristol's Clifton Suspension Bridge in February, leading to its closure.

Public concern has focused on security at the Houses of Parliament since two anti-Iraq war protesters scaled the tower that houses the Big Ben bell, part of the legislative complex, in March.

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