Hackney woman in court over 'chasing down' BBC journalist at lockdown rally
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A woman from Hackney is among five protesters who allegedly chased down a BBC journalist at an anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine rally, a court has heard.
Newsnight political editor Nick Watt told Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday - June 29 - how he was “very scared” and felt like "prey" as he was pursued by demonstrators in Whitehall in June 2021.
Djazia Chaib-Eddour, 44, of the Mayville Estate in Stoke Newington; Alexander Peat, 34, of Wandsworth; Gary Purnell, 45, of Shepherd’s Bush; Christopher Aitken, 62, of Lambeth, and Martin Hockridge, 58, of Harpenden, all deny using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
Prosecuting, Alex Matthews told the court a “frenzied incident was whipped up in joint fervour” and the five defendants “engaged in mob rule”.
Footage played in court showed protesters shouting in the face of Mr Watt, who was wearing a BBC lanyard.
He walked away from the crowd as people shouted at him before he started running, eventually making his way behind the gates of Downing Street.
In the video, some can be heard shouting “traitor”, while another asked, “how can you sleep at night?”
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The court heard the experience had left Mr Watt “very shaken” and the footage had upset his family.
Mr Watt said he had left his office in the parliamentary estate to observe the protest, which was initially “reasonably good natured”, before the “atmosphere deteriorated”.
He told the court he decided to walk away, in the direction away from downing street, before he began to feel there was a “huge physical threat” as he ran to safety near number 10.
He told the court: “I used to be a runner, the calculation I made was that I could run faster than any of them.”
“I had become their prey, their quarry. It was like hunting a vulnerable animal," he added.
Giving evidence yesterday - Thursday, June 30 - Chaib-Eddour said her involvement was limited to asking Mr Watt a question, although the court footage showed her and Hockridge walk behind and alongside Mr Watt for several metres.
In her police interview, which was also read to the court, she said: “As you can see he walked straight up to me, I saw the BBC lanyard around his neck and I said ‘you need to start reporting on honest journalism’.”
The court also heard from co-defendant Martin Hockridge, who accepted shouting traitor at Mr Watt several times, but denied trying to make him feel threatened.
Giving evidence, he said: “My intention was not to harass, my intention was to express my feeling.”
The court also heard how, during a police interview, Hockridge told officers Watt “should face a Nuremberg-style trial for his role”.
Aitken can been seen on the video beating a metal tin with a spoon next to Watt as he ran through the crowd to escape.
While he denies the charge levelled against him, Aitken apologised to Mr Watt, saying: “I didn’t intend to cause any unhappiness to Nick Watt’s family and if there’s any distress that Nick Watt’s family feel over this.
"I am sorry and I apologise for that, it wasn’t my intention.”
However, he proceeded to apportion blame to Mr Watt: “He is responsible for some of what happened.”
Peat accepted being present at the demonstration and saying “traitor” as Mr Watt passed him but denies the charge.
In a police interview after his arrest, read to the court, he told officers: “I didn’t say anything, I just called him a traitor, that’s all I said.
"Other people may have sworn at him, I didn’t call him any four-letter words.”
Purnell gave a no comment interview to police and chose to give evidence in court.
Aitken, Hockridge, Chaib-Eddour, Peat and Purnell were released on bail.
The trial continues.