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Police today accused a self-proclaimed “freedom fighter” of breaking public order after BBC reporter Nicholas Watt was harassed by anti-blockade protesters.
A video showed the political editor of Newsnight trying to evade protesters when they chased and cursed him near Downing Street in London on Monday.
Martin Hockridge Age
Scotland Yard opened an investigation and interviewed Martin Hockridge, 57, of Harpenden, Hertfordshire, at a police station yesterday afternoon at a police station.
Last night, he was charged with a crime under Section 4A of using threatening, abusive or offensive words or behavior towards another person that would have intentionally caused harassment, alarm or fear.
No, not shouting, Martin Hockridge, of Harpenden, will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 29 June.
He is accused under the Public Order Act of using threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour with the intention of causing harassment or distress. https://t.co/pvJQ1jLw42
— Steve Sayers 🏴in🇬🇧=👍🏼 #Scexit👎🏼 (@SteveSayersOne) June 16, 2021
Hockridge, a gardener who on Instagram describes himself as a single father and “freedom fighter”, will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on June 29.
Metropolitan police officers were still trying to identify others involved in the incident and asked the public to help them with their investigation.
Mr. Watt, wearing a BBC lanyard, walked through the crowd and passed a line of police officers as protesters shouted “traitors”, “liars”, “scum” and “what a shame”.
After the footage was shared on social media yesterday, many wondered why dozens of uniformed agents featured in the video didn’t help Watt.
The force responded by stating that the officers were not in the immediate vicinity of the incident, but later admitted they were not and their actions were under review.
Metropolitan Police said: “We take these concerns seriously and will review our actions to improve event tracking for all Londoners.”
Watt, who previously worked for The Guardian and The Times, told the Daily Mail that he would rather continue his work than discuss the incident.
While it is unclear if Watt was a specific target or if the protesters took the opportunity after seeing his BBC cordon, those who mistreated him have made it clear they are unhappy with the station’s coverage.
Boris Johnson cited the condemnation of “shameful” images and stressed the importance of a free press for the country’s democracy.
He tweeted: “It’s a shame to see Nick Watt harass him at work.
“The media must be able to cover events without fear or favor; they are the cornerstone of our democracy.
Other lawmakers also condemned the behavior of those protesting the government’s extension of coronavirus restrictions.
Interior Minister Priti Patel tweeted: “The BBC Newsnight video of Nick Watt being harassed by a crowd is frightening and heartbreaking. This behavior is never acceptable.”
He later added: “The safety of journalists is essential for our democracy. This month the government launched a consultation to better understand the nature and extent of the threats and attacks against journalists working in the UK.
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, criticized the metropolitan police. She said: “It is shocking that a man who ran away from a crowd yelling at him, yelling a traitor and calling him scum did not have immediate police intervention.”
Assistant Director of Labor Angela Rayner added: “I have been interviewed several times by Nicholas Watt and he is always polite and always professional.
“He too does not hesitate to ask difficult questions. I am shocked by the video where he is abused to do his job. A free press is an essential part of our democracy ”.
Jo Stevens, fictional Minister of Culture for the Labor Party, said: “This extremely disturbing footage, which clearly shows the intimidation of a journalist in his duty, is absolutely unacceptable and must be strongly condemned.
Following the incident, BBC Managing Director Tim Davie said: “The safety of journalists is fundamental to any democracy: they must be able to report freely and without abuse.
“There is absolutely no justification for treating a journalist like this.”
And a BBC spokesperson said: “This behavior is totally unacceptable. All journalists should be able to do their job without intimidation or obstruction.”
Watts’s colleague, BBC reporter Allie Hodgkins-Brown, said: “This is horrible. In central London in 2021. I disagree. Well, hear us out, but no reporter doesn’t deserve it.”