THE Metropolitan Police last night came under fire for failing to intervene as a senior BBC journalist was harassed by anti-lockdown protesters.
An ‘appalling and distressing’ video showed Newsnight political editor Nicholas Watt trying to evade demonstrators as they chased and hurled abuse at him.
The Prime Minister condemned their ‘disgraceful’ actions.
Mr Watt, who was wearing a BBC lanyard, ran through the mob near Downing Street on Monday and beyond a line of police officers as demonstrators shouted ‘traitor’, ‘scum’ and ‘shame on you’.
After the footage was shared on social media yesterday, many questioned why dozens of uniformed officers seen in the video failed to help Mr Watt.
The force responded by claiming officers had not been in the ‘immediate vicinity’ of the incident but later conceded this was not the case and that their actions would be reviewed. Met Police said: ‘We take those concerns seriously and will be reviewing our actions with a view to improving the policing of events for all Londoners.’
While it is not clear if Mr Watt was specifically targeted or whether protesters seized the opportunity after seeing his BBC lanyard, those abusing him made clear their distaste for the broadcaster’s coverage of lockdowns.
Boris Johnson yesterday led condemnation of the footage. He tweeted: ‘Disgraceful to see the hounding of Nick Watt doing his job. The media must be able to report the facts without fear or favour - they are the lifeblood of our democracy.’
Other MPs also condemned the behaviour of those protesting against the Government’s extension of coronavirus restrictions.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: ‘The video of BBC Newsnight’s Nick Watt being abused by a mob is appalling and distressing. This month the Government launched a consultation to better understand the nature of threats and abuse against journalists who are operating in the UK.’
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, criticised the Met Police. She said: ‘It is shocking that a man escaping a mob screaming at him, shouting traitor and calling him scum didn’t result in the police immediately intervening.’
While Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner added: ‘I have been interviewed by Nicholas Watt on many occasions and he is always unfailingly polite and professional. I am horrified by the video of him being abused for doing his job.’
Following the incident, the BBC’s director-general Tim Davie said: ‘The safety of journalists is fundamental to any democracy - they must be able to report unhindered, free from abuse.
And a BBC spokesman said: ‘All journalists should be able to carry out their work without intimidation or impediment.’ While Mr Watt’s colleague, BBC journalist Allie Hodgkins-Brown, said: ‘This is awful. In Central London 2021. Disagree with us fine. Switch us off fine but no journalist deserves this.’
Last night a man in his 50s was being interviewed in relation to the incident while a second was being sought by officers.
Mr Watt yesterday told the Mail he would rather get on with his work than discuss the incident.