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Journalist defiant after being attacked by shoplifter outside court

A regional journalist attacked outside court while filming a shoplifter says he “won’t be bullied” following the incident.

Gloucestershire Live reporter Conor Gogarty was threatened by Mustafa Ahmed, who was convicted after stealing three pairs of headphones at Cheltenham Magistrates’ Court.

Ahmed had been given a conditional discharge after admitting theft and possession of a Class B drug, but lashed out while Conor was filming him leaving the hearing.

Court security staff intervened, and a video of the incident was included with Conor’s report of proceedings for Gloucestershire Live.

Mustafa Ahmed, pictured left outside court, and Conor Gogarty

Mustafa Ahmed, pictured left outside court, and Conor Gogarty

Conor, who is 23 and covers Cheltenham for the site, told HTFP: “You would think there are few safer places for a journalist to photograph or film a criminal than outside court. And in fairness, defendants are usually smart enough to realise it’s probably not the best place to attack someone.

“In the past a few people have threatened me or tried to rip my phone out of my hands when I have taken pictures of them. That was actually quite a common occurrence when I worked for the Essex Chronicle. But Mustafa Ahmed is the only defendant to have physically attacked me.

“As he left court following his sentencing, he tried to snatch my phone away, and then grabbed my throat. He shouted: ‘What you doing bruv? Why you filming me?’

“Needless to say, it was a bit of a surprise. The court’s security guards deserve a lot of praise, because they intervened in seconds. Ahmed took his hand away from me as the security staff came out of the building. In the video you can hear one of them say: ‘Steady, lad.’ Ahmed demanded that I delete the video, but I refused and went back into court to cover the next hearing.”

Ahmed, a 22-year-old Danish national who studies sports science at the University of Gloucestershire, was caught with the headphones after triggering an alarm while trying to leave a Tesco supermarket.

Police, who had been called to the shop by security staff, found cannabis after searching him.

Sue Gethin, prosecuting, told the court: “He said he was a poor student and wanted to sell the headphones for food. He said the cannabis was for personal use.”

Caroline Williams, defending, said: “His family live outside the UK. He has no support from them. He was worried how he was going to feed himself the following week, and made the decision to steal something to sell for food.

“He is remorseful. He knows he should have sought help in a better way.”

Chairman of the magistrates Sue Alexander said she accepted Ahmed’s motivation was hardship and gave him a conditional discharge, while he was also ordered to pay £100 in compensation and court costs.

After the hearing, Conor added: “Filming defendants is relatively unusual in local journalism, but I’ve found it can make for good video. The footage of Ahmed, for instance, played a big part in my write-up of the sentencing getting more than 6,000 page views.

“Another example is a man who admitted 12 sex offences in Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court last year. Reporting for the Essex Chronicle, I filmed him as he left court after his hearing, and asked if he was sorry for his crimes.

“His reply, caught on camera, was that he hadn’t been charged with anything. He also threatened to destroy my phone. The resulting story, headlined ‘Sex offender caught lying outside court in video outburst’, was a big success.

“I’m passionate about covering the courts and shining a light on crime in the community. I won’t be bullied into forsaking my right to take a picture or video in a public place. And I’m thankful for the excellent security staff in Cheltenham, who make sure I can go about my work safely.”

19 comments

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  • April 11, 2018 at 10:17 am
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    Reporter doing photographers job discovers that the job involves people trying to punch you from time to time…

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  • April 11, 2018 at 10:35 am
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    @A photographer
    I generally finally a hefty old Nikon with a 300mm attached makes an excellent defence weapon in those circumstances. Carries a bit more clout than a feeble mobile device.

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  • April 11, 2018 at 11:27 am
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    Not too sure our reporter/photographer wasn’t out of order as well. Surely he was within court precincts which prohibits photography. My recollection of the rules are they are fairly vague but just having the court building in the background of the photo is sufficient for it to be considered as within the precinct of the court.

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  • April 11, 2018 at 12:16 pm
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    I can’t really see how a shoplifter in itself merits being filmed leaving court unless it’s someone famous like the Queen or Wayne Rooney. Of course, the person charged is going to ‘act up’ to the camera and it is only that element which creates the drama, which may possibly be worthy of filming. My advice would be to save the filming for the more hardened criminals and cases!

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  • April 11, 2018 at 12:27 pm
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    In 20 years of covering various courts, I was threatened with violence a number of times and offered money – even sex on one occasion – to keep cases out of the papers.
    However, the strangest encounter I ever had was with a wealthy defendant’s expensive solicitor, who accosted me in the court car park and warned me that I would be sued if his client’s case (drink-drive, assaulting police) appeared in print. He claimed it would ruin me and my employers.
    Unsurprisingly, we never heard any more from him after my vastly experienced editor phoned his senior partner and mentioned the magic words “Bar Council”. For the record, my court report made a lovely page 3 lead.

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  • April 11, 2018 at 1:14 pm
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    Absolutely Jason Bye. Technically, Section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 covers not only the court room itself but its whole precinct. Then again, have you heard of anyone actually falling foul of this?

    As Toggy mentions, not only does the 300mm lens carry more clout, it also means you don’t have to get so close to scumbags. If only newspapers still used photographers eh?

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  • April 11, 2018 at 1:52 pm
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    Oliver…. I have felt the wrath of a judge over precincts!

    One that I used to cover regularly required a 600mm for a decent half length.

    Desperate days in journalism when a shoplifting case at mags merits a video though. And as this reporter has discovered when you shove a short lens up close to the great unwashed, they start swinging.

    Personally a Nikon F3 was always a favourite for defence in these situations; right in the chops!

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  • April 11, 2018 at 2:14 pm
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    @Oliver says: ‘you don’t have to get so close to scumbags’ using a bigger lens. Really, Oliver – a ‘scumbag’ for stealing headphones to pay for food, a mitigation the court accepted?
    I think we may have a different idea of what constitutes a scumbag…

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  • April 11, 2018 at 2:29 pm
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    My weapon of choice was a 200mm lens with 2x converter hiding behind trees, lightweight and not too big of a lens to be able to run! They never knew they were photographed as I’d shoot and walk away with the camera hidden. Standing on the court steps taking a photo or video is probably court precincts. If this young reporter got hit properly or pushed down the steps and injured, I think the editor could find themselves in a whole heap of trouble knowing that its something he does, probably encouraged to do so and putting himself at risk. Personal safety isn’t worth a video viewed by a few thousand people, especially for a shoplifter.

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  • April 11, 2018 at 2:48 pm
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    Do these videos actually really add value to the stories or are they being made to chase a few thousand clicks? I find it depressing that the values of stories nowadays are just rated in clicks and page views – surely there is more to local journalism that this….?

    Is it a surprise when someone comes out of court that they are riled up and ready to kick off when someone pokes an iphone in their face? Also how did the guy coming out the court know the guy was a journalist – and not someone posting random crap to Facebook?

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  • April 11, 2018 at 4:02 pm
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    Maybe reporters should show even more courage and stop doing a photographer’s job. It’s news if a reporter is attacked, less so if a photographer is, unless the photographer is badly injured!

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  • April 11, 2018 at 4:35 pm
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    Firstly, I’m glad this reporter is okay. Sadly, I can see such attacks becoming more common as newsrooms increasingly do away with photographers. It’s not particularly helpful pitting reporters against photographer though. Any reporter worth his or her salt will know the value of a good photographer. Starting out many years ago, it was a tog who taught me the vital skill of getting people to open up. Secondly, a reporter taking photos on a mobile phone will be seen as a soft target by a criminal. He / she won’t be a seen as a professional carrying out a legitimate task in the same way a photographer with a dirty great Nikon will be. Chances are in order to get a clear shot you’re going to have to be right up in the face of the person you’re snatching. In these kind of difficult scenarios, photographers have a talent for getting shots subtly, using angles and any available cover to their advantage. Thirdly, an important point I’d like to make. Photographers are vital in any newsroom. Their pictures will be far superior to those a reporter takes. A reporter and photographer is truly a winning combination. It’s a relationship that takes time to form and is based on mutual respect. We’re blessed to still have some good photographers and I highly rate each of them. One shouldn’t be doing the other’s job.

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  • April 11, 2018 at 4:54 pm
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    I remember when I started in journalism in 1965 and after proper training was sent to cover court cases on my own. On one occasion the defendant walked behind me all the way to the paper’s offices threatening all sorts of assaults. Not a very nice experience. Fortunately the editor was in and told him in no uncertain terms that he (the def) would be back in court if he was not careful for threatening behaviour and we would print the story even larger than the one we already had. That shut him up.

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  • April 11, 2018 at 5:40 pm
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    @Sam Holliday: Oh, that makes it all right then… Since when did you work on behalf of this lovely fellow’s Defence?

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  • April 11, 2018 at 5:54 pm
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    Sam Holiday, you need to read my previous comment properly. I didn’t suggest that this person was a scumbag. I simply stated that a 300mm lens meant you didn’t have to get as close to scumbags.

    If you want me to give an opinion on this person, I recognise the court’s acceptance of his mitigating circumstances (even though it would appear that, despite his hardship, he’d already bought drugs instead of food). However, attacking someone in the street, in my opinion, makes you a scumbag.

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  • April 12, 2018 at 5:30 am
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    I have some recent experience of this scenario. Was in court and a 4x drink drive defendant claimed he wad ex-undercover detective so his address should not be published. The bench agreed only to allow press to report the city name. I challengef the ruling by standing up in court and stating that justice must be seen to be done. The beak disagreed. However he said nothing about a photo, the scumbag (and he was) got off the drink drive but was convicted of assaulting a Tesco worker as he tried to buy booze. I followed him as sentence wad adjourned and snapped him with a 20 year old trusty 180/2.8 on a Nikon from a good distance. Mafe page 3of my paper and Manchester Evening News. What is a snapper doing in court you ask I trained ad a photojournalist.

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  • April 12, 2018 at 4:03 pm
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    In over 38 years covering courts I was very occasionally offered money or just threats to try to stop a case being reported.
    But my finest hour came back in the 1970s when the very well known owner of my town’s main department store came up for drink-driving. He told me his store would withdraw ads from my paper if his case was reported. I reported back to my editor and the paper’s owner who told me that if ads were really withdrawn the paper would ban the usual weekly ad for a fortnight – and report to readers what this bod had threatened to do. He withdrew his threat, the case was published (without mentioning his threat/inducement) and the ads continued. Ah, those were the days……

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