Boris Johnson condemns ‘disgraceful’ chasing of BBC journalist Nicholas Watt by anti-lockdown protesters

Footage shows Nicholas Watt accosted by several people during demonstration

Tom Batchelor
Tuesday 15 June 2021 21:19
Newsnight political editor chased down by anti-lockdown protesters

Boris Johnson has condemned “disgraceful” footage of a BBC journalist being abused and chased down the street by anti-lockdown protesters in Westminster.

Footage showed Nicholas Watt, Newsnight’s political editor, being accosted by several people during a demonstration outside Downing Street on Monday.

On Tuesday the prime minister tweeted: “Disgraceful to see the hounding of Nick Watt doing his job. The media must be able to report the facts without fear or favour – they are the lifeblood of our democracy.”

In the clip, seemingly filmed on a mobile phone, a woman is seen shouting in Mr Watt’s face about the BBC’s reporting.

He attempts to move away from her but she follows him past a line of police and he is then surrounded by a group of men who swear at the journalist while he keeps walking.

At one point a man grabs his shoulder and shouts in his face before another member of the crowd asks “why did you lie and say lockdowns are legal, how can it be legal to lock people in their house”.

Mr Watt then turns around in an effort to avoid the mob and one man aggressively lunges towards him and shouts “traitor”. The same man, wearing a light green shirt, shorts and a black ponytail, continues hurling abuse at the journalist as he tries to get away.

The former Guardian chief political correspondent was then forced to run through the crowd to chants of “scum” and back to the police barriers erected at the entrance to Downing Street.

The Metropolitan Police said a man in his fifties has been interviewed by detectives in relation to the incident, and a second man is being actively sought by officers.

Dozens of anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown demonstrators marched through Westminster on Monday afternoon as Boris Johnson announced that a further easing of coronavirus restrictions would be delayed by a month after a rise in cases.

Newsnight editor, Esme Wren, said the harassment and intimidation of a journalist was “completely unacceptable”.

“All journalists should be able to do their work without impediment or risking their safety,” she added in a tweet on Tuesday.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has said it was “genuinely shocking” to watch footage of police doing nothing as anti-lockdown protesters hounded a BBC reporter.

Its statement read: “It is genuinely shocking that a man escaping a mob screaming at him, shouting traitor and calling him scum, didn’t result in the police immediately intervening.”

In a statement, BBC director-general Tim Davie said: “The safety of journalists is fundamental to any democracy – they must be able to report unhindered free from abuse.

“There is absolutely no justification for any journalist to be treated in this way.”

The Metropolitan Police said: “We are aware of a video that has been shared online which shows a journalist being aggressively confronted and chased by a group of protestors in the vicinity of Whitehall on Monday, 14 June.

“After reviewing the video footage, a number of possible offences were identified and an investigation was launched.

“A man in his fifties is being interviewed by Met detectives at a police station in Hertfordshire in relation to the incident. A second man has been identified and is being actively sought by officers.

The force said anyone with information is asked to call 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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