Senior district judge Paul Goldspring has described a former estate agent who accosted Professor Chris Whitty as “yobbish”, adding that he “humiliated” England’s chief medical officer by putting him in a loose headlock when his request for a photo was declined.
Lewis Hughes, 24, of Romford, Essex, put his future at risk with “10 seconds of madness” when he accosted Prof Whitty in St James’s Park in central London last month, Westminster Magistrates Court heard.
Footage of the incident, lasting around 20 seconds, was widely shared on social media.
Hughes, who was sacked following the incident on June 27, admitted a charge of assault by beating at the court on Friday and was handed a suspended sentence.
Senior district judge Paul Goldspring told the defendant: “He [Prof Whitty] goes about his very difficult job without the expectation of yobs like you accosting him, assaulting him.
“And to compound it all, he was further humiliated by that video being posted.”
Hughes was given an eight-week prison sentence, suspended for two years and was ordered to pay a total of £307 in fines and compensation.
The judge said Hughes’s actions “undermined” the efforts of key workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic and went on to say that “The act itself is not the most serious but there are very few cases that are more serious in my view.”
He also said he believed Prof Whitty would donate the £100 compensation awarded to him to charity, saying it would be the “mark of the man”, adding to Hughes, “Let it be a lesson to you, yobbish behaviour and drinking alcohol has consequences.”
Luke Staton, prosecuting, told the court Prof Whitty had not intended to report the footage until it had been released online.
Prof Whitty had recognised that the defendants were not “aggressive” but he doubted their intentions in asking for a photograph, the court heard.
Laurie-Anne Power, defending, said Hughes had been in London for a dance festival prior to the incident.
She said: “Ten seconds of madness has cost this young, ambitious man his future.”
Ms Power said Hughes is “remorseful for his actions” and has paid a “heavy price” through losing his job as an estate agent.
She added he is a man of “exemplary good character” who has brought “humiliation” on himself and his family.
The court heard he approached Prof Whitty merely to get a photograph with him, and not because of his views on the pandemic.
However, Ms Power said Hughes recognised that Prof Whitty had “not given his consent to touch him”.
A second man, Jonathan Chew, 24, from Chelmsford, Essex, pleaded not guilty to the same charge of assault by beating.
He was granted bail and asked to appear at the same court on November 23 for a trial.
The court heard Prof Whitty is expected to give evidence at the trial.
The professor, who has a leading role in devising lockdown restrictions and regularly appears alongside Boris Johnson at coronavirus press briefings, has been involved in a number of encounters with members of the public during the pandemic.
He has previously been confronted on a street in Oxford by a man accusing him of lying to the public about the virus, while in February a man accosted him near parliament.
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