Protesters who ‘intimidated’ BBC journalist sentencedon August 30, 2022 at 2:02 pm

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The anti-lockdown activists were found guilty of verbally abusing Newsnight journalist Nick Watt.

Nicholas Watt

A group of anti-lockdown protesters has been sentenced after verbally abusing BBC journalist Nick Watt.

The Newsnight political editor was chased and called a traitor near Downing Street on 14 June 2021.

A large group had gathered at Westminster to protest against the government’s extension of coronavirus restrictions in England by four weeks.

Four men and one woman had denied the charges but were found guilty at a trial earlier this month.

Martin Hockridge

Image source, PA Media

Each had denied using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

But footage shared on social media showed demonstrators shouting abuse in the face of Mr Watt, who was wearing a BBC lanyard.

Three men, Gary Purnell, 45, Alexander Peat, 34, and Martin Hockridge, 58, were handed 12-month community orders, with a requirement to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.

Djazia Chaib-Eddour, 44, was given a 12-month community order, with a requirement to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work and 20 hours of rehabilitation.

Djazia Chaib-Eddour

Image source, PA Media

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

District Judge Louisa Cieciora issued an arrest warrant for Christopher Aitken, 62, who did not attend the hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday.

Prosecutor Sudara Weerasena said Mr Watt had faced further intimidation after attending court for the trial, and the prosecution barrister also needed a police escort.

“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.”

Police and demonstrators

Image source, Reuters

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

“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.”

Alexander Peat

Image source, PA Media

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 had been the subject of death threats on “conspiracy theorist forums” and had 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.”

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