Tom Peck, The Independent |
A protestor who interrupted Tony Blair’s evidence at the Leveson Inquiry in May has been fined £100.
David Lawley-Wakelin, who made a documentary called Alternative Iraq, said “excuse me” before heckling Mr Blair, but was nonetheless found guilty of causing alarm or distress to Lord Leveson and the former Prime Minister. The case was moved to a larger courtroom at Haringey Magistrates’ Court in north London, to accommodate Mr Lawley-Wakelin’s 20 supporters.
“I said excuse me when I entered because I was interrupting someone who was speaking,” Mr Lawley-Wakelin, 49, told the court. “There is evidence that shows Blair lied and deceived the country into a war, so the suggestion he might be a war criminal when over 100,000 people have died is perfectly reasonable.”
A news report of the incident was played several times, showing Mr Lawley-Wakelin bursting into the room near to Lord Leveson’s seat. The court heard specialist officers were drafted in that day specifically to make the courtroom secure for Mr Blair’s testimony. The court heard Mr Lawley-Wakelin had an expired press pass on him when arrested, and co-operated fully with officers once he had been bundled out of the room.
At one point, when the footage was paused on Mr Blair, one of his supporters in the gallery asked another: “Do we have to keep seeing his face?”
Defence barrister James Mason described Mr Lawley-Wakelin as “charming”, adding: “There doesn’t seem to be anyone who looks particularly concerned at all.
There was no use of bad language or adjectives of swearing. There was no actual threat made to Mr Blair on anyone else.
“There was irritation, and professional annoyance, and it is perfectly understandable why his Lordship [Leveson] felt the way he did,” he said. It was Lord Leveson who had pushed for prosecution. “But what has followed is sledge hammer to crack a very polite and modest nut.”
District Judge Robin McPhee did not agree, finding Mr Lawley-Wakelin in breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. “I have come to the certain conclusion that in a democratic society which establishes a system of public inquiry, that it is a legitimate aim to ensure that such inquiries run properly,” he said. “That witnesses can attend without fear of being caused alarm at the hand of a third party unconnected with the inquiry and give their evidence freely and without fear of interruption by disorderly behaviour.”
Mr Lawley-Wakelin was fined £100, are ordered to pay £250 court costs, and a £15 victim surcharge. Speaking on the steps outside the court afterwards, Mr Lawley-Wakelin revealed he had received messages of support from the Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“The world needs more people like you,” he said the archbishop had written to him. “People should not abuse their freedom nor their authority. We have agitated for this and similar causes.”
Mr Lawley-Wakelin said: “For me to now be found guilty of causing Tony Blair harassment, alarm and distress for calling him a war criminal while he is giving evidence to an inquiry about the lies and deceit of others is the greatest hypocrisy I have heard for a very long time.”