BORIS Johnson was booed, heckled and branded a coward as he faced a hostile audience of around 800 people in Catford last night.
The Mayor of London was at the Broadway Theatre along with London Assembly members for a 'people's question time' and, despite agenda items on policing, transport and housing, Lewisham Hospital dominated the discussion.
A rattled Mr Johnson, who repeatedly refused to back the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, was roundly booed from the outset, jeered when he responded to questions on the subject and heckled when he tried some of his trademark humour.
Consultant paediatrician Tony O’Sullivan asked: "How can he sleep at night when two of the most deprived boroughs in the whole of England, that's Lewisham and Greenwich, of 50,000 people are going to be deprived of a fantastic hospital?"
Campaigner Dr Louise Irvine asked: "Will you be pressing Jeremy Hunt to reverse his decision? Will you declare your support for the save Lewisham Hospital campaign?"
Another questioner challenged him on his 2008 manifesto, saying he claimed "extra minutes in an ambulance could make all the difference between life and death".
Even when questions turned to the economy, one woman asked: "Have you ever come across a business which closes down one of its best performing outlets which is what we feel is happening with Lewisham Hospital?"
The mayor, who reluctantly pledged to meet with campaigners, told the audience: "What I can't contradict is the expert opinion of clinicians who say that they are actuated by a desire to improve clinical outcomes."
He added: "I'm told that the reforms that are proposed just in respect of this area could save in the region of 100 lives."
Campaigners, who say the 100 lives claim has no clinical evidence to back it up, dismissed his comments as "rubbish".
One GP said the mayor was ignoring his responsibility for health and equalities, saying: "You are a coward."
An angered Mr Johnson shot back that to support the campaign because of a "fusillade of abuse" would be "the act of the coward and the demagogue".
Boris on trains and fairground rides
Boris Johnson was asked about proposals for Transport for London to take control of train companies like Southeastern along with plans to extend the Bakerloo Line to Lewisham.
Mr Johnson, who had travelled to the venue via train, was asked by Forest Hill Society chairman Michael Abrahams about bringing the Bakerloo and DLR to south east London.
On taking over the railways, he said: "We're seeing good progress. I hope very much to have something more to say to you before the end of the summer."
And he also suggested the Bakerloo extension could go ahead in the future.
The mayor was later challenged over pollution that could be caused by the proposed Silvertown Tunnel at Greenwich peninsula, while Steve Nelson from the South East London Chamber of Commerce dismissed the cable car as a "fairground ride".
Mr Johnson said: "I think everybody who slags off the cable car should stop."