BP CEO Tony Hayward pulls out of public appearance at oil conference at the last minute.

hayward BP CEO Tony Hayward was scheduled to speak at a meeting of the World National Oil Companies Congress today in London, which would mark his “first public appearance in the UK” since the disaster in the Gulf. But this morning the embattled chief announced that he is cancelling his appearance at the conference to “focus on the Gulf of Mexico relief effort”:

Tony Hayward, the chief executive of BP, has pulled out of a scheduled appearance at an oil conference in London on Tuesday as pressure grew after he was pictured sailing at the weekend.

Hayward said his decision was made in order to focus on the Gulf of Mexico relief effort but the British oil chief has faced severe criticism after pictures were published of him enjoying a yacht race off the Isle of Wight on Saturday.

BP spokesman Jon Pack said that Hayward’s “very heavy schedule of commitments to the Gulf of Mexico” had led him to cancel his appearance at the World National Oil Companies Congress.

Chief of staff Steve Westwell attended the conference today in Hayward’s place. Twice during his address to the conference attendees Westwell was interrupted by demonstrators chanting, “We need to end the oil age!”