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June 29, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:29am

BBC journalist Nicholas Watt felt like ‘prey’ as he was chased by protesters, court hears

By PA Media

A BBC journalist felt like “prey” as he was chased by protesters at an anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine rally, a court has heard.

Nicholas Watt (pictured) told Westminster Magistrates’ Court he was “very scared” as he was pursued by demonstrators in Whitehall in June 2021.

Footage played in court showed protesters shouting in the face of the Newsnight political editor and former Guardian chief political correspondent, 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?”

Christopher Aitken, 62, Martin Hockridge, 58, Djazia Chaib-Eddour, 44, Alexander Peat, 34, and Gary Purnell, 45, all deny using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

On the first day of their trial, on Wednesday, Watt said he had left his office in the parliamentary estate to observe the protest, which was initially “reasonably good natured”.

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But he said the “atmosphere deteriorated”, prompting him to don his BBC lanyard to identify himself as press to police and demonstrators.

He told the court he decided to walk away, in the direction away from Downing Street, before he began to realise there was a “huge physical threat” as he ran to safety near No 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.”

Watt explained he was “like an express train” when he fled.

“I had become their prey, their quarry. It was like hunting a vulnerable animal,” he added.

Prosecuting, Alex Matthews told the court a “frenzied incident was whipped up in joint fervour” and the five defendants “engaged in mob rule”.

Watt told the court the experience had left him “very shaken”, adding that despite having covered unrest in Northern Ireland he “had never experienced” behaviour of that kind.

The court also heard how the incident had a long-lasting impact on his mental wellbeing.

He said there was “obviously the psychological impact of ‘what’s round the corner?’”

During Watt’s evidence, two people were removed from the public gallery for laughing.

Aitken, of Lambeth, Hockridge, of Harpenden, Chaib-Eddour, of Islington, Peat, of Wandsworth, and Purnell, of Shepherd’s Bush, were released on bail.

The trial continues.

Picture: BBC Newsnight/Youtube screenshot

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