London councillor Brian Coleman admits assaulting female café owner who photographed him breaking parking rules


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The Independent Online

A controversy-prone former Tory councillor has pleaded guilty to assaulting a member of the public after she tried to film him breaking parking rules.

Brian Coleman, who served as chairman of the London Assembly and was a Conservative councillor in Barnet before being suspended over the charges, appeared at Uxbridge Magistrates' Court today.

The 51-year-old, of Essex Road, Finchley, north London, had previously denied the claims brought against him by local cafe owner Helen Michael, who said he scratched and injured her as he lunged for her camera phone.

Coleman was ordered to pay a fine of £270, cover court costs of £850 and pay £250 compensation by District Judge Deborah Wright - a total of £1,385.

The sum also included a victim surcharge of £15.

Coleman - who calls himself "King of Bling" on his personal blog - parked in a loading bay in Finchley High Road and went to withdraw cash from an ATM in September last year.

Ms Michael, 50, came out of her cafe and started filming the him. CCTV footage viewed by the court showed the councillor running towards the cafe owner and tussling with her in a bid to get her mobile phone.

Ms Michael suffered injuries to her wrists, shoulders and left breast, and was later given a splint and painkillers by a doctor, the court heard.

Another charge, of driving without reasonable consideration following the assault, was dropped.

Coleman, who was mayor of Barnet between 2009-10 and chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, is no stranger to controversy.

Earlier this year the gay councillor claimed in a blog post to have slept with an Arsenal striker, while in 2008 he was criticised after it emerged that his annual expenses claim included £8,000 in taxi fares when working for the London Assembly.

In 2007 Coleman made headlines after he claimed that Ted Heath was a homosexual who was told to stop "cottaging", prior to becoming prime minister.

He also introduced an "unpopular" new system of parking charges during his time on Barnet Council.

Speaking outside court today, mother-of-two Ms Michael said she welcomed the outcome, adding that Coleman had "picked on the wrong woman this time".

Surrounded by a group of supporters, she called for him to resign immediately as a councillor and said she was "keeping her options open" to stand against him if he was to run in the next election.

District Judge Wright said in her summing-up that, in attempting to grab the phone, "I have no doubt that his motives were to avoid the embarrassment of publicity."

But she gave Coleman credit for his guilty plea.

Prosecution lawyer Manjit Mahal said Coleman had been using "one rule for himself and one rule for the other traders".

Speaking for the defence, Neville Rudston said the attack had to be viewed in the context of a campaign "with uncomfortable and personal elements" levelled against the councillor as a result of his changes to parking payments.

Posters were made bearing Coleman's image and the word "Murderer", accusing him of "killing" the High Street, and his elderly mother was also targeted, Mr Rudston said.

He added that the councillor had found it "difficult" to look at CCTV of the assault "and come to terms himself with what had happened".

The court also heard that Ms Michael had blogged earlier in the week: "Come down, your one chance to see Mr Coleman in the dock. Whatever the result all back to Cafe Buzz for sure."

She added that there would be "bubbly all round" and posted a tweet which mocked Coleman's sexuality.

Coleman remains an independent councillor for Barnet.