Self-styled “yellow vest” protester James Goddard has been fined £300 after being convicted of assaulting a photojournalist at a demo in Manchester.
Police officers were called to the courtroom after Goddard, 29, who represented himself in court, surreptitiously held up a piece of paper with the words “Pussy coward leftist soy boy” on it as his victim began giving evidence in the witness box.
Police seized the piece of paper and were harangued as “bullies” and “jobsworths” by Goddard’s supporters in the public gallery at Manchester Magistrates’ Court.
But District Judge Mark Hadfield chose not to pursue the matter as a contempt of court and continued proceedings after the photojournalist, Joel Goodman, indicated he was happy to continue giving evidence.
After hearing evidence from both Mr Goodman and Goddard, the judge convicted the defendant of common assault by grabbing at his victim’s camera.
He was found not guilty of a public order offence of using threatening words or behaviour to cause Mr Goodman to fear “immediate” violence after he told him he would “take his head off his shoulders” when police were not present.
Judge Hadfield said as the threat of violence was not “immediate”, the offence was not made out and cleared the defendant.
Goddard told the court he regretted making the threat but it was a “common English idiom” and claimed to be the victim of a witch hunt because of his political beliefs.
He was fined £300 for the common assault, and ordered to pay £500 in prosecution costs, £50 compensation to Mr Goodman and a £30 victim impact surcharge.
A two-year restraining order means the defendant is banned from approaching Mr Goodman.
The court heard Goddard has nine previous convictions, including theft from an employer and failing to surrender in April 2010 and a racially aggravated public order offence in February 2011.
He told the court he now works as a “content creator” and is an “independent journalist”.
Earlier, Mr Goodman told the court he was working a shift for the Manchester Evening News covering a “yellow vest” protest and counter-demo at Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester city centre on February 9 this year.
Mr Goodman was wearing a body-cam and the court was shown footage of the incidents, which began at around 12.30pm when Goddard noticed Mr Goodman, who he approached and appeared to lunge at, twice trying to grab his camera.
Mr Goodman backs away, shouting: “Don’t you dare touch my lens!”
About 20 minutes later, Mr Goodman told the court, Goddard approached him again.
Goddard is filmed telling him: “When there’s no police around here, I’m going to take your head off your shoulders.
“Next time you are in London, you are finished, all the football lads know you. Next time you are down, see what happens.”
Lynn Rogers, prosecuting, asked the witness: “How did you perceive those words?”
Mr Goodman replied: “Meaning to assault me in future. It scared me a bit.”
Using a megaphone and surrounded by “yellow vest” supporters, Goddard is then recorded referring to “Joel” and saying: “Your card is marked.”
A further 20 minutes later, there is a third encounter where the two argue about freedom of speech and the right to protest and the right of Mr Goodman to take photos.
The discussion ends in a handshake.
Goddard was arrested five days later by police at his home address in Kelvindale Drive, Timperley, Greater Manchester.
He made no comment and later claimed self-defence.
Before Goddard cross-examined the witness, he told the court he had been suffering stress as this was not his only trial – he faces a second trial for alleged harassment of MP Anna Soubry in Westminster.
Goddard maintained he had not caused his victim alarm or distress – and they later shook hands.
He admitted pushing the camera as he believed his photo would be “given to organisations that tried to do me serious harm”.
Goddard continued: “I’m not proud of what I said. It’s a common English idiom. I wanted him out of my personal space.”
He described proceedings as a “witch hunt” and claimed he was being persecuted because Greater Manchester Police “fear the rise of the yellow vests”.
Goddard said he had released a video “to my 15,000 followers” apologising for the comments to Mr Goodman.
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