Entertainment

Anti-lockdown protesters who ‘intimidated' BBC journalist sentenced

The judge issued an arrest warrant for Christopher Aitken, who did not attend the hearing.

BBC journalist Nick Watt was “intimidated” after giving evidence against anti-lockdown protesters who were found guilty of verbally abusing him, a court has heard.

The prosecution barrister also had to be escorted out of Westminster Magistrates’ Court by police during the trial of Djazia Chaib-Eddour, 44, Martin Hockridge, 58, Alexander Peat, 34, Christopher Aitken, 62, and Gary Purnell, 45, it was said.

Each denied using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress, but were found guilty earlier this month following a trial.

Newsnight editor harassment court case
Alexander Peat arriving at Westminster Magistrates’ Court (PA)

They were part of a group that gathered in Westminster on June 14 last year to protest against the Government’s extension of coronavirus restrictions in England by four weeks.

Footage shared on social media showed demonstrators shouting abuse in the face of Newsnight political editor Mr Watt as he was chased and called a traitor near Downing Street, while wearing a BBC lanyard.

Prosecutor Sudara Weerasena said on Tuesday the reporter had faced further intimidation after attending court for the trial.

“Having given evidence in this particular case, he was intimidated leaving the court,” she said. “The prosecution advocate had to be escorted out of the building by police.”

But District Judge Louisa Cieciora said the allegations could not be “laid at the door of any of the defendants”, who were still in court at the time.

She handed Purnell, Peat and Hockridge 12-month community orders, with a requirement to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work, while Chaib-Eddour was given a 12-month community order, with a requirement to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work and 20 hours of rehabilitation.

They were each ordered to pay a total of £395 in costs and other charges and slapped with an indefinite restraining order not to contact Mr Watt.

The judge issued an arrest warrant for Aitken, who did not attend the hearing, while Joseph Olswang, 40, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing and was sentenced to 20 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 18 months.

“This was an extremely unpleasant incident in which each of you used abusive words and threatening behaviour towards Mr Watt,” the judge said.

“This was committed against somebody who was providing a service to the public, even if you did not agree that service was being performed to the standard it should have been.”

In a victim impact statement, Mr Watt told how he ran to the gates of Downing Street “as fast as I could” because of the “size and aggression of the crowd”.

“At the time of the incident I was shocked and alarmed at what was happening to me,” he said. “I felt I was in immense danger.”

Mr Watt said he has been the subject of death threats on “conspiracy theorist forums” and has concerns “my safety can no longer be guaranteed”.

“Whilst not from identified suspects in this case, they were clearly inspired by the incident,” he said.

“My family and I found them very distressing.”