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January 8, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 7:19am

BBC and Channel 4 News have ‘no plans’ to move from College Green as police promise ‘robust’ action against harassment

By James Walker

BBC News and Channel 4 News have said they have “no plans” to stop broadcasting outside Parliament after police promised to deal “robustly” with any criminal harassment and abuse against journalists, MPs and others from Brexit protesters.

Videos posted to social media yesterday showed a gang of men hounding Labour supporter and journalist Owen Jones and Tory MP Anna Soubry (pictured, left) as they left makeshift broadcast studios on College Green, London.

Soubry, who opposes Brexit, appeared both on Sky News and BBC News yesterday where chants from protesters could be heard on-air as she was interviewed, falsely branding her both a “liar” and a “Nazi”.

To the latter insult, she briefly stopped the interview with the BBC’s Simon McCoy and raised her objections. “Well, apologies too if you’re offended by what you’re listening to,” McCoy said to viewers.

Following her TV appearances Soubry was pursued by a group of pro-Brexit supporters along the street on her way back to Parliament. The encounter was caught on video from both sides.

The incident prompted outrage online and has led to some 60 MPs signing a letter to Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick raising “serious concerns” about the verbal abuse faced by Soubry and others.

It said an “ugly element of individuals” had “increasingly engaged in intimidatory and potentially criminal acts targeting members of parliament, journalists, activists and members of the public”, the Guardian reported.

In a separate letter to the Met Police, Commons Speaker John Bercow added: “It would like to ask for your help in addressing, as a matter of urgency, a number of incidents of aggressive, threatening and intimidating behaviour towards MPs and journalists in the vicinity of Abingdon Green.

“The issue was raised with me in the House of Commons yesterday by colleagues who are concerned for their personal safety when they go to and return from media interviews.”

Scotland Yard is understood to be investigating whether any offences were committed yesterday, although officers were present at the time.

The Guardian’s Jones was also subject to verbal abuse from protesters who called him a “tampon”, “a horrible little liar” and a “disgrace”. He filmed the encounter and shared it on Twitter.

Sky News presenter Kay Burley (pictured, right) has tweeted that she requires a security escort as a result of the protesters, saying: “These people are not pro-Brexit. They are pro-intimidation.

“They specifically target me and scream ‘slag’, or ‘fucking fascist’ over and over and over again and those are just some comments I can mention in polite company.”

Channel 4 News said they would not move away from the green following the incidents. A spokesperson said: “We’re monitoring the situation, but have no plans to relocate now that the police have upped their presence.”

Channel 4 News editor Ben de Pear told Press Gazette that tonight’s bulletin would likely be broadcast from the green and that if it wasn’t, it would not be down to protesters.

He added: “This is a whole new order where these people are deliberately trying to provoke a response.

“They’re not just doing it to politicians. They’ve also been doing it to reporters and media staff, technical staff, cameramen, camerawomen. Everyone has been subjected to it. It’s unacceptable.”

Press Gazette understands that BBC News also has no plans to leave College Green but does not intend to report from there every day.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We are working closely with authorities and other broadcasters to ensure the safety of our reporters and interviewees at all times.”

Press Gazette asked Sky News and ITV News whether they planned to move from the green, but has yet to receive a response. 

When Press Gazette visited the green this afternoon none of the broadcasters were live from the tents and protesters were not at the barriers.

Sky News has largely broadcast from its studios today but did have a reporter at the tents earlier this afternoon.


Empty broadcast tents on College Green opposite the Houses of Parliament today (8 January 2019)

In a statement about policing around the green, Met operations deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor said: “Police continue to assess if any crimes have been committed following a third party report of a public order offence on Monday, 7 January, in the area of College Green, SW1.

“If a crime has been committed the matter will be fully investigated. There has been no arrest at this stage.

“An ongoing policing operation at the Parliamentary estate around Brexit continues and we have an appropriate policing plan in place.

“Our role is to facilitate peaceful protest and balance the needs and rights of all those present, including protesters, MPs and members of the public.

“We will deal robustly with incidents of harassment and abuse against anyone where that harassment or abuse constitutes a criminal offence.

“Officers in the area have been briefed to intervene appropriately where they hear or see breaches of the law.”

Picture: Sky News screenshot

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