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British minister Mandelson attacked with green custard

A protester threw green custard in the face of British business minister Peter Mandelson on Friday, in a colourful stunt to highlight opposition to a new runway at London's Heathrow airport.

world Updated: Mar 07, 2009 00:04 IST

A protester threw green custard in the face of British business minister Peter Mandelson on Friday, in a colourful stunt to highlight opposition to a new runway at London's Heathrow airport.

The former EU trade commissioner was arriving for a London conference on carbon strategy when protester Leila Deen approached him and hurled a large cupful of custard straight in Mandelson's face, from close range.

Mandelson bent over, turned away and hurried inside, while the protester picked up papers she had dropped and calmly strode off -- immediately embarking on a series of live television interviews about the incident.

"Mandelson is trying to make political capital out of climate change," said serial campaigner Deen, a member of Plane Stupid, which has staged several protests over plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, west of London.

"The only thing green about Peter Mandelson is the slime coursing through his veins...We can't let the 'Prince of Darkness' cast his shadow over west London," she added, referring to his nickname earned for media spinning skills.

The incident appeared to raise security questions, since Deen, 29, approached Mandelson unchecked and walked off freely afterwards.

But Mandelson, who returned to the British government in October, seemed unfazed by the stunt, saying he did not fear for his security and people should not over-react.

"It could have been nastier," the 55-year-old told reporters later -- minus his splattered coat. Whilst I'm prepared to take my fair share of the green revolution on to my shoulders, I'm less keen on having it on my face.

"In a sense I guess I should be grateful to the protester for helping us to put this very important subject on the map," he said, but added: "I would rather people said it to my face than threw it in my face."

Scotland Yard said it was investigating the incident, even though no formal complaint had been made.

Former deputy prime minister John Prescott -- who famously punched a protester in the face after being pelted with an egg in 2001 -- voiced anger and said that Deen should have been arrested.

"What is totally unacceptable is the way the woman walked away, claiming that it was her right in a democracy. She should have been arrested... If it would have been acid, would she still be walking away?" he said.

Plane Stupid has staged a string of attention-grabbing stunts to highlight their cause, including climbing on to the roof of the House of Commons and occupying a runway at Stansted airport north of London.

Mandelson jokingly accepted that the new incident triggered memories of an alleged class-sensitive gaffe from years ago: when the well-spoken young politician was said to have mistaken a green substance in a fish and chip shop.

"Guacamole or mushy peas. You see you don't know do you. You can make these mistakes, you can go into fish and chip shops in the north of England, and not know whether it's mushy peas or guacamole," he said with a smile.

Bookmaker William Hill is taking bets on which popular dessert would next be hurled at a British government minister, with spotted dick, a steamed suet pudding containing currants, the 3/1 favourite.