A man has been found guilty of aggravated assault against the Guardian columnist Owen Jones because of hostility to his leftwing political views and homophobia, following a two-day trial at Snaresbrook crown court.
Anne Studd QC, the presiding judge, connected at the end of the hearing that Jones was the victim of a “wholly unprovoked assault” outside a centralLondonpub last August because of “his LGBT and his leftwing beliefs.”
The defendant, James Healy, 45, had “far-right” views, Studd added, as evidenced by a collection of memorabilia found at his Portsmouth home, including items with logos or mottos from far right group Combat 29, white supremacist groups and hooligan groups associated with Chelsea football club.
Healy had already pleaded guilty to assaulting Jones last August outside the Lexington pub in King’s Cross, north London, at about 2am. But he was on trial to determine whether his actions were motivated by homophobia and hostility to Jones’s leftwing views.
The judge said that she rejected the defendant’s account of events in the early hours of 20 August in which he claimed he had “got the hump” because Jones had bumped into him and spilled some of his drink at around 1. 30 am. Studying CCTV from the pub she said Healy had not appeared to remonstrate with Jones at the time.
The judge accepted Jones’s account of events, which was that when he was in the pub, he was greeted by either Healy or individuals next to him, and so he was able to identify Healy as the man who went on to attack him half an hour later. “I am satisfied this was a targeted attack on Mr Jones because of who he is and his beliefs,” the judge concluded.
Jones said he had no recollection of any hostility directed at him inside the pub. Matthew Radstone, Healy’s counsel, said to Jones: “You bumped into him with a drink in his hand,” prompting the journalist to respond: “That definitely did not happen.” He added subsequently that “nothing bad or hostile at all” happened inside the pub, where he was celebrating his 40 th birthday.
Jones said he had a different memory of the encounter. Although he had been drinking since 7. 45 pm, Jones said he was “completely in control” and that he remembered an apparently jovial or friendly interaction.
According to a witness statement from Jones, read out in court, the journalist had a conversation along the lines of: “Are you Owen Jones? We are big fans for your work, keep it up, ’” which the writer said was typical of many interactions he had had when going out. Jones believed Healy and others used that encounter to identify him.
A few minutes later, as Jones and a group of friends were leaving the pub, he told the court he was attacked from behind. “I was saying goodbye to a friend, then I was on the floor, unaware of what was happening, completely disorientated. I hurt my head and I think there was a period of 18 seconds where I don’t really remember what happened. ”
Additional CCTV footage taken shortly after 2am showed Healy leaving shortly after Jones, and running after him just has he was leaving the vicinity, attacking him from behind and appearing to knock him to the ground before a general skirmish ensued.
Studd said that Healy made no attempt to speak to Jones and engaged in a “brutal assault that was clearly targeted”. The judge said the video contradicted Healy’s claim, given in a witness statement to police, that he had acted in self-defense throughout.
One item of memorabilia found in Healy’s home featured a “sun cross” – a white supremacist symbol – used by White Pride Worldwide with the “whatever it takes” motto of Combat 29 and “lead the way” used by the banned Loyalist Volunteer Force. Another said “Chelsea FC, no asylum seekers”.
The collection also included a black flag, bearing a “totenkopf” deaths head symbol, used by the Nazi SS, and the letters CYF, standing for Chelsea Youth Firm, a hooligan group associated with the west London football club. Healy had a tattoo associated with the group on his right arm, the court also heard.
Healy had told the court that the items found at his home were “connected to football and football violence” but did not reflect far-right political views. Giving evidence, Healy said: “I didn’t understand their meanings as respects the far right.”
Instead, the defendant said he had collected memorabilia about years ago in connection with his involvement in the Chelsea Youth Firm and said he had kept them because he was “a hoarder”.
Healy acknowledged that he had a violent past and had previous convictions relating to football hooliganism, but told the court he was no longer involved. “Prior to 2012, when I went to football matches, it was with the intention to fight,” he said.
But Studd said that she believed he had not changed his views since, partly because he had received a 45 th birthday card with extremist symbols on it. That card featured a cross of St George which the court heard featured “an Ulster-related symbol” in the middle and the words “no surrender” in the bottom right.
Healy is one of three men who have admitted being involved in the incident. He and Liam Tracey, 39, from Camden, north London, and Charlie Ambrose, (*************************, from Brighton, all pleaded guilty to affray last month. Healy also admitted a further charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
Sentencing for all three men is due to take place next month at the earliest. Healy will receive a greater than normal sentence because of the aggravating factors.