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.
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.”