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Murdoch pie man wins sentence cut

Sam Marsden
Friday 05 August 2011 17:00 BST
Jonathan May-Bowles pleaded guilty last week to assaulting Rupert Murdoch
Jonathan May-Bowles pleaded guilty last week to assaulting Rupert Murdoch (Getty Images)

The comedian who threw a foam pie at Rupert Murdoch has had his jail sentence reduced on appeal.

Jonathan May-Bowles, 26, pleaded guilty last week to assaulting the 80-year-old media tycoon as he gave evidence to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee about the phone-hacking scandal.

May-Bowles, also known by his stage name "Jonnie Marbles", disrupted the proceedings by projecting a paper plate of shaving foam at Mr Murdoch.

He failed in an attempt to overturn his six-week prison sentence, handed down on Tuesday, but it was reduced to four weeks at London's Southwark Crown Court today.

Judge Anthony Pitts, sitting with two magistrates, rejected arguments that the foam pie attack was in the tradition of comics from Laurel and Hardy to Monty Python.

"That might be funny or have an element of comedy about it in a different situation," he said.

"But not in this situation. It was intended, it seems to us, to cause fear and it must have caused fear.

"In our judgment, there is an overwhelming inference it caused fear and shock amongst Mr Murdoch, his wife and his son, let alone others in the room who were crying out in shock and disbelief."

He noted that the committee was sitting as a "quasi-judicial hearing" and that the offence had "overtones of contempt of court".

Judge Pitts also suggested that May-Bowles, a part-time stand-up comic, carried out the attack to gain notoriety.

"It is impossible to imagine that he did this without knowing that it would attract huge, probably worldwide, publicity, his assault on Mr Murdoch," he said.

"He must have known that, he must have intended to be seen in the context of having had the courage to do what he did and to assault this - I put it in inverted commas - 'wicked newspaper owner'."

May-Bowles, who was wearing a baggy red T-shirt and grey tracksuit trousers, gave a thumbs-up to friends in the public gallery as he was led away to resume his sentence.

Piers Marquis, for the comedian, argued that he carried out a "protest by prank" and did not harm Mr Murdoch.

He stressed that May-Bowles "lobbed" the plate at the billionaire rather than pushing it into his face and pointed out that prosecutors did not charge him with assault at first.

Mr Marquis said the foam pie had been a "staple of slapstick comedy" for many years.

"They have been comedy for generations precisely because they are harmless. It would not be funny in any circumstances if they were not," he said.

"From Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges to Monty Python, all have used this methodology."

He added: "It wasn't high comedy, but it was a protest by prank."

The incident came towards the end of Mr Murdoch's appearance before MPs alongside his son, James, in Portcullis House, opposite the Houses of Parliament, on July 19.

May-Bowles, of Edinburgh Gardens, Windsor, Berkshire, smuggled the foam pie into the building hidden in an old shirt, which he discarded in bins in the men's toilets.

Shortly after committee chairman John Whittingdale announced that the session was drawing to a close, the comedian got up, silently walked over to Mr Murdoch and thrust the foam pie in his face.

The media mogul's wife, Wendi Deng, leapt to his defence, first pushing the protester away and then throwing the plate at him as he was led off.


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