Johnson condemns harassment of BBC journalist by protesters

Prime minister labels footage of Nicholas Watt being chased in London ‘disgraceful’

Police officers patrol the streets of Westminster as protesters gathered for a demonstration against government lockdown restrictions in  London on Monday. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

Police officers patrol the streets of Westminster as protesters gathered for a demonstration against government lockdown restrictions in London on Monday. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

 

British prime minister Boris Johnson has condemned “disgraceful” footage of a BBC journalist being harassed and chased by anti-lockdown protesters in London.

Met detectives have begun interviewing a man in his 50s while officers search for another man after footage shared on social media showed demonstrators shouting abuse in the face of Newsnight political editor Nicholas Watt.

Watt, who was wearing a BBC lanyard, was forced to run through the mob beyond a line of police officers as people shouted “traitor” and other slurs at him near Downing Street on Monday.

Crowds had gathered in Westminster to protest against the UK government’s extension of coronavirus restrictions in England by four weeks.

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.”

His cabinet colleague, home secretary Priti Patel tweeted: “The video of BBCNewsnight’s Nick Watt being abused by a mob is appalling and distressing.

“This behaviour is never acceptable.”

She added: “The safety of journalists is fundamental to our democracy.

“This month the Government launched a consultation to better understand the nature & volume of threats and abuse against journalists who are operating in the UK.”

The BBC said in a statement: “This behaviour is completely unacceptable.

“All journalists should be able to carry out their work without intimidation or impediment.”

BBC journalist Allie Hodgkins-Brown tweeted: “This is awful. In Central London 2021. Disagree with us fine. Switch us off fine but no journalist deserves this.”

Jo Stevens, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, said: “This extremely disturbing footage showing clear intimidation of a journalist while carrying out his job is absolutely unacceptable and should be condemned in the strongest terms.

“It is shocking that a BBC lanyard makes someone a target like this.”

The Metropolitan Police initially said an investigation would be launched into a “number of offences” but that their officers “were not in the immediate vicinity of the incident”.

However, following the emergence of another longer video showing officers present at the scene, on Tuesday evening the force said it would also be “reviewing our actions with a view to improving the policing of events”.

Met detectives have also been interviewing a man in his 50s at a police station in Hertfordshire in relation to the incident while officers search for another man who has been identified.

The force said in an updated statement: “The behaviour shown in the video is unacceptable. Members of the public, of any profession, have the right to go about their day without being subjected to verbal harassment or actions that put them in fear for their safety.

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

“We also acknowledge the concerns that have been raised about the police response.

“We take those concerns seriously and will be reviewing our actions with a view to improving the policing of events for all Londoners.”

Anyone with information that could help to identify others involved in the incident should call 101, tweet MetCC or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. – PA