Their colleagues have survived bomb blasts in Iraq and terrorism in Northern Ireland, but Brighton beach proved too hairy for BBC cameramen.

"Brighton beach is too dangerous," said one crew member who was caught up in a scuffle on Tuesday.

The crew was setting up on the beach opposite the Brighton Centre, ready to film Lib Dem interviews, when a fight broke out after someone tried to steal a piece of BBC equipment.

After the scuffle, the shaken camera crew cut its losses and fled the beach, settling instead for the safety of The Grand hotel as its base.

One eyewitness said: "At about 5.15pm the usual gangs were hanging around and the BBC camera crew was near Gemini bar.

"The crew was just setting up for an interview and one member of a gang who was hanging around there started fiddling with one of the cameras.

"The BBC guy asked him to stop and the gang bloke gave him a shove and then grabbed him and they started rolling around on the ground.

"Another one joined in and they were kicking and punching him while he was on the floor.

"Then a second BBC engineer jumped out of the car and joined in."

The onlooker said he thought the fight only ended because the engineer was black and appealed to the gang members.

He said he heard him say "Come on bro, leave him alone" before the fight broke up.

The witness said: "That's the sad thing. If the engineer had not been black, the fight would probably have got much worse.

"The BBC man wasn't hurt but it was frightening for people watching and there were a lot of us around because of the conference."

The incident happened just before the beachside interview with home affairs spokesman MP Simon Hughes, who often speaks on the issues of drugs and public safety.