Bedfordshire on Sunday’s chief executive has described as "absurdly low" the sentence passed on a lawyer who admitted assaulting one of his journalists.
Barrister Andy Darkoh, working for Bedford Borough Council, was given a one-year conditional discharge after admitting he assaulted BoS reporter Oliver Adam, causing him actual bodily harm, and causing criminal damage to a camera.
Mike Richardson, chief executive of BoS publisher Local Sunday Newspapers, said: "It doesn’t bode well for the safety of journalists when they can be assaulted in the street and the attacker only gets a conditional discharge." Colleagues believe the assault was a factor in Adam’s decision to quit journalism last Christmas.
St Albans Crown Court heard that Adam needed five stitches to a head wound after Darkoh knocked him to the ground and hit him in the face.
Darkoh was said to be incensed that Adam had tried to photograph him as part of a story the BoS was running about the lawyer’s attempt to bring a county court action against a pub for alleged racial discrimination.
Prosecutor Laura Blackband said that Adam followed Darkoh from Bedford Town Hall into the High Street in order to photograph him. Darkoh knocked him to the ground and knelt on his chest. "Mr Adam was hit a number of times to the face and needed five stitches to a head wound." She said Darkoh then smashed the camera.
Tamala McGhee, for Darkoh, said there was "considerable background" to the case. The newspaper had made claims that there had been maladministration at a local election and the council, along with the lawyer, had lost a defamation case against BoS over the story.
Darkoh, who had no previous convictions or cautions, felt "targeted and harassed" by the newspaper, she said, and had expressed remorse. He was ordered to pay £200 compensation for the camera.
Judge Findlay Baker QC commented: "Taking a photograph does not amount to an invasion of privacy. It might, in certain circumstances, amount to harassment." "I think the sentence was absurdly low," said Richardson. "Oliver was a very keen journalist who cracked a lot of stories but this incident affected his confidence."