A right-wing activist has been given a restraining order for abusing a journalist at court, leaving her “looking over her shoulder” for danger while at work.
Independent home affairs and security correspondent Lizzie Dearden was at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court in March 2019 to cover the case of James Goddard who had been charged with harassing pro-Remain Conservative MP Anna Soubry.
When self-styled “yellow-vest” activist Goddard (pictured) spotted Dearden outside the courtroom he shouted “that’s Lizzie Dearden from The Independent”, calling her “vile” and “scum of the earth”, according to the title’s report.
Dearden, who said she tried to get away from Goddard into the courtroom but was told by staff it was full, told Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court on Thursday: “I was frightened when he came towards me, he is quite a big guy and he looked extremely angry.”
Fellow journalist Carly-May Kavanagh, who was with Dearden at the time, told the court Goddard was “aggressive and confrontational” and that she feared the incident “could get physical”. Court staff did not intervene.
Goddard claimed he had not been threatening or abusive, telling the court: “If you can’t be called a scumbag maybe you are in the wrong profession, maybe you shouldn’t be a journalist, maybe you should go work in a warehouse.”
But District Judge Andrew Sweet found him guilty of using threatening or abusive words or behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.
He added that Goddard had “acted in an aggressive manner towards Ms Dearden – so much so she wanted to get into the courtroom for safety”.
Goddard was handed an indefinite restraining order banning him from contacting Dearden, and ordered to pay a total of £780 – a £250 fine, £30 victim surcharge and £500 in costs.
It is the second time Goddard has been given a restraining order against a journalist.
He was convicted in June 2019 of assaulting Manchester Evening News photographer Joel Goodman at a demo after grabbing at his camera.
The National Union of Journalists has called for harsher penalties to be introduced for those who repeatedly threaten or attack journalists.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “Harassment and intimidation of journalists is on the increase, and without harsher penalties we are likely to see more serial abusers as in this case
“Lizzie’s experience shows how abuse online and in person often goes hand in hand – no journalist should have to carry out their work under such pressure, looking over their shoulder for fear of being abused or attacked.
“Journalists cannot be treated like fair game – we need a renewed focus on effective deterrents to stamp out harassment and abuse and this should include consideration of harsher legal penalties.”
Online abuse against Dearden has been increasing for years since she began reporting on refugees, crime and terror attacks but this is the first incident which spilled from online into real life.
Writing about her experiences, Dearden said: “The incident shattered my belief that the abuse and threats were confined to the online world, that I would not be recognised in real life, that I was safe.
“I now spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder. Every work assignment comes with a mental threat assessment – who could be there? Could I be in danger? Is it worth the risk?”
Dearden also raised the question of whether the abuse she receives via email, tweets, Facebook and phone calls is worse because she is a woman.
Research carried out by the International Center for Journalists and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation last week raised concerns about the “insidious problem” of online violence against women.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of women journalists who responded to the survey said they have experienced online abuse and threats.
One-fifth said they have been targeted with offline abuse and attacks which they believed were connected to online violence they had received.
“This finding is particularly disturbing,” the ICFJ said. “It underlines the fact that online violence isn’t contained within the digital world.
“Frequently associated with orchestrated attacks designed to silence journalists, and fuelled by disinformation tactics, it also spills into the physical world – sometimes with deadly impacts.”
The Independent’s acting editor David Marley praised Dearden as “a first-class reporter who has done vital work in exposing the tactics of far-right groups and activists”.
“It is a testament to her bravery that she has continued with that work despite the numerous online threats and abuse she has received as a result,” he said.
“The incident with James Goddard is particularly worrying in showing how online abuse can turn into something even more sinister and threatening in person. It is also deeply concerning that this incident happened inside a court building, a place where journalists must be protected and be safe to carry out their work.”
Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire