Journalists were met with a “hostile atmosphere” in the courtroom hearing of Yellow Vest activist James Goddard, said one who attended, with supporters joining him in the dock at one stage amid security failings.
Goddard,29, appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court today where he denied one count of harassment without violence against independent MP Anna Soubry.
He is alleged to have called Soubry a “Nazi” and a “traitor” as she carried out media interviews with broadcasters in Westminster and walked to and from Parliament between December 18 last year and January 8.
Goddard labelled the press “vultures” in court, according to PA.
The hearing was labelled a “shambles” by Evening Standard court correspondent Tristan Kirk after the judge adjourned proceedings part way through and some of Goddard’s supporters entered the dock with him.
According to Kirk, there had been a restricted ticket policy for entry to the hearing, but “no-one enforcing it”. He said: “It was unpleasant and unsightly and not what you hoped to experience in a court situation.
“There was a distinct lack of security presence in the courtroom. The normal controls applied to court one at Westminster were not operating properly.
“This is one of Britain’s most secure courtrooms apparently. It was a bit of a shambles in terms of the management and operation – not entirely unexpected either.”
One journalist was told the courtroom was full and was denied entry.
After being bailed, Goddard complained about not having a fair trial and reportedly told the court: “If I was meant to have a fair and just trial, why were the media smearing me in the build-up to the trial. It isn’t a fair trial.”
A group of journalism students were sat in the public gallery, observing the hearing as part of their training, alongside Goddard’s supporters, Kirk said. About ten journalists were sat on the press bench.
Said Kirk: “There was nothing from the court to stop Goddard’s supporters from haranguing the press in court and nobody said anything to stop it. There was no real physical security presence in court.
He added: “It was a hostile atmosphere.”
Although the court service has given an undertaking to provide press benches, not all courts have one. Kirk said this was exactly the kind of scenario that showed their importance, adding that he “wouldn’t personally like to have been in the public gallery covering this case”.
An HM Courts and Tribunal Service spokesperson has since apologised “to all those affected” and said it was “urgently investigating what happened”.
“The safety and security of all court users is our priority and we’re deeply concerned to hear of intimidating behaviour at Westminster Magistrates’ Court this morning,” they said.
“This sort of behaviour will not be tolerated.”
Goddard, from Timperley in Altrincham, Greater Manchester, also denied one count of racially aggravated harassment, alarm or distress, and another count of harassment, alarm or distress.
A trial is due to take place in July, the Standard has reported. It is understood that Goddard will rely on a defence of “fair comment”.
Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire