A Tommy Robinson supporter who hurled abuse at an Al Jazeera journalist has been cleared of a religiously aggravated offence after telling magistrates he has a “little” Muslim friend.
William Eve, 57, confronted Sonia Gallego during a rally for the English Defence League founder while he was in custody for allegedly committing contempt of court.
A video played at City of London Magistrates’ Court today showed Eve (pictured) accusing the reporter of being “Muslim-backed”, asking if she is “fucking stupid” and calling her “a slag”.
The court heard Eve is now “sofa surfing” due to marriage troubles, while his wife’s business, the Bank Restaurant in Hornchurch, east London, has suffered after the footage was posted on Twitter.
Eve admitted one count of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour to cause harassment, alarm or distress but denied there was a religious element to the offence.
He told magistrates he has no issue with Islam or people of other races, adding he has a Muslim friend from Bangladesh who works a greengrocer near his wife’s restaurant.
“I lived in Asia for 22 years,” he said. “I lived in another people’s country and I have friends from all over.
“And the little guy who has a shop a few doors away from my wife’s restaurant, Hussain, I used to go to Smithfield Market and buy vegetables for the restaurant and I used to buy vegetables for Hussain… he’s a lovely little man.”
Eve explained he had only used the phrase “Muslim-backed” because of Al Jazeera’s links to the Qatari royal family.
He was found not guilty of causing religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress after a trial.
Chairman of the bench, magistrate Tim McAndrews, said: “Whilst we note your hostility, we could not be sure that hostility was caused directly by the association with Al Jazeera’s proprietors and accordingly we find you not guilty.”
Eve, from Rainham, Essex, was fined £160 and ordered to pay another £165 in costs and compensation for the offence he admitted.
The court heard Gallego was reporting on the “Free Tommy Robinson” rally in Whitehall on 14 July last year when she was approached by Eve demanding to know who she was with.
“Immediately, I felt quite like I was being targeted, first of all for being a member of the press,” she said.
“I told him that I was a journalist, he demanded to know with whom I was with and I told him Al Jazeera.
“He responded by saying: ‘OK, so you’re Muslim-backed.”
She said Eve was “pointing towards me in quite an aggressive fashion”, adding: “An alarm bell went off and I wanted to film it for my safety.”
The reporter, who is British and not a Muslim, said his “menacing” tone continued and when she asked him to explain the comment, Eve asked: “Are you fucking stupid, are you thick?”
Eve then said “you know, you’re a slag”, before walking away as he was filmed by Gallego, who was pelted with horse manure, along with her cameraman, producer and security guard, as they left the scene.
Gallego said: “It’s part and parcel of the job to go into situations which are risky.
“However, this has been a point of worry when we have to cover these sort of incidents given the rhetoric that has been bandied about in the past couple of years, not only just in terms of Islamophobia but in terms of journalists trying to do their jobs.
Prosecutor Simon Maughan had suggested to Eve: “You thought this lady and her group were associated with our members of a religious group, namely Muslims, and that’s why you took umbrage to their presence.”
“Not at all, totally wrong,” Eve replied.
“So, because I mentioned a religion I’m being chastised. I really don’t understand. Because I said the word ‘Muslim’ I’m in court.”
He added: “I don’t want to cause anyone any harm, I really don’t and the saddest thing is I have been accused of being racist, and even worse is the things that this whole thing has caused.
“I don’t live at home anymore because of this, my wife’s business has been demolished because of this, because Ms Gallego thought it would be good to put this incident up on Twitter.”
Picture: Sonia Gallego/PA Wire