It is a scene familiar to many who have wandered down a British high street on a busy night: a man worse for wear for drink being restrained by three police officers as blue lights flash and fellow revellers crane their necks to watch the drama.
But because this particular incident involved Eric Joyce – the troubled MP for Falkirk who has previously been found guilty of assaulting three Tories and a Labour whip – and the venue was the Houses of Parliament, the incident prompted a debate about drinking in politics and led David Cameron to revisit the idea of allowing constituents to get rid of their MPs midterm.
The sequence of events leading to the arrest of Joyce began at around 10pm on Thursday night. The Sports and Social Club bar is one of eight licensed premises within the parliamentary estate and can be found through a discreet door within metres of the Commons chamber.
A younger crowd of parliamentary researchers, journalists and parliamentary staff tend to frequent the bar on Thursday nights before the House of Commons rises for the weekend. Drinkers pay £3.30 for a pint as smokers loiter outside.
Staff said the bar was heaving with more than 150 customers, many of whom were there for the weekly karaoke night. As the strains of Queen's Don't Stop Me Now played, Joyce, a well-built former army officer, pushed his way through the crowd, a witness claimed. "He was barging into people. It was noticeable," he said.
Another witness claimed Joyce appeared to disagree with a member of the bar staff as he was allegedly stopped from taking his glass to the smoking area.
What happened for the next few minutes remains unclear. But by 10.30pm, Joyce had again made his way outside the bar and was being encouraged by two police officers to go home.
Within seconds, Joyce was on the ground "wrestling with two police officers", according to Tony Grew, a journalist from the PoliticsHome website. "He appeared to have one of the officers in an armlock, he put his arm around the officer's neck, and the other police officer was on top of him."
A bin had been knocked to the floor. A policeman's helmet rocked back and forth next to it, Grew said. "I can vividly remember a policeman's hat rolling on the ground towards me," he added.
"There were around at least 40 or 50 parliamentary staff, shocked, watching this melee as it occurred. Bar staff were trying to push people back, telling them to stand back and let the police do their work," said Grew.
Dozens of police and parliamentary staff then arrived. Staff confiscated mobile phones to stop fellow drinkers from taking photographs of the MP, resulting in further agitation among the crowd. Police then swiftly closed the bar.
Grew said that 15 minutes later police were still restraining Joyce on a bench next to the members' entrance and beneath Big Ben, even though he was handcuffed. "He was being held down by three or four police officers – he was still struggling. Then a van drove up and he was taken away," he said.
Police said Joyce was later arrested again while in custody on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm.
Parliamentary authorities yesterday took action against Joyce. The serjeant at arms, Lawrence Ward – responsible for keeping order in the Commons – confirmed Joyce would be subject to an indefinite alcohol ban in parliamentary bars.
Asked about the incident during a press conference in Brussels, the prime minister said constituents should be able to sack their MPs. "I do support the recall proposals that were in our manifesto. I still think it is right if we can find a way of putting this in place. I think it is an important idea," he said.
Labour sources indicated last night that the party – from which Joyce resigned last year after he was found guilty of assault– would offer to help him, but declined to comment further, saying it was a private matter. Joyce has previously admitted to having a drink problem and those who know him say that he has suffered post- traumatic stress disorder after his time in the armed forces.
Michael Connarty, MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, suggested that more could be done by parliament to help Joyce. "I think he is a perfect example of combat stress," he told Sky News.
Joyce, 52, joined the army at 18 as a private in the Black Watch, but after three years he took a sabbatical and gained a BA in religious studies from the University of Stirling. He then went to Sandhurst and served in Northern Ireland, Belize and Germany. He was eventually promoted to the rank of major in 1992.
Joyce was previously fined by a court and given a three-month ban on entering pubs and bars following an incident in a Commons bar last February. He resigned from the Labour party after headbutting Tory rivals Stuart Andrew and Ben Maney, punching Tory councillor Luke Mackenzie and Labour whip Phillip Wilson, and swearing at police.
He admitted common assault and was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £1,400 to victims. Joyce has said he will stand down as an MP at the next election in 2015.
He was released on bail on Friday night. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "A man aged in his 50s, arrested on Thursday 14 March on suspicion of assault in connection with a disturbance in a bar within the House of Commons, has been bailed to return to a central London police station on a date in late March. He was further arrested while in custody on suspicion of actual bodily harm."
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