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Conspiracy theorist uses court hearing to attack regional press coronavirus coverage

Conor Gogarty 2An anti-lockdown conspiracy theorist used his day in court to attack a regional news website which covered the hearing.

Robin Campbell accused Bristol Live, sister site to the Bristol Post, of trying to “gaslight” the public with its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic after appearing in front of a judge over his attendance at a 400-strong protest against government restrictions.

Campbell launched the attack at the title’s chief reporter Conor Gogarty during the hearing at Bristol Magistrates’ Court, despite District Judge Lynne Matthews reading him an article from The Times which contained the “harrowing words” of a doctor working in a high dependency unit during the pandemic.

In a Twitter thread published after the case, Conor, pictured, described Campbell’s addresses to the court as “completely baseless and dangerous”.

During the hearing, Campbell, who represented himself in court, told the judge he did not know where he was supposed to voice his opinion “when there is a lockdown enforced and freedom of speech curtailed”.

The judged asked why he did not voice his opinion in the media, at which point Campbell pointed to Conor in the press gallery and said: “People like Bristol Live try to gaslight us.”

“Gaslighting” is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality or memories.

The judge replied: “That’s nonsense. There are plenty of people in the newspapers with views like yours. I saw one example in The Times earlier.”

Campbell then advanced a false conspiracy theory about vaccines, according to Bristol Live’s coverage of the hearing, to which Judge Matthews asked: “Are you an anti-vaxxer?”

Campbell replied: “No, I’m just anti-stupid.”

The judge’s “powerful” reading prompted Conor to relay the incident in a series of Twitter posts, which have since been shared more than 4,000 times.

He wrote: “Everyone in the courtroom seemed affected by what they’d heard. Sadly, everyone except the defendant. He had been rifling through his notes almost throughout. When the judge finished, he didn’t waste time launching into conspiracy theories.

“At one point, he pointed to me in the press gallery and accused my paper of ‘gaslighting’, presumably because we have reported on the danger of coronavirus.

“The judge did her utmost to reason with him. It didn’t do any good. It ended with a £1,500 fine, but there was a feeling of hopelessness I couldn’t shake.

“The defendant couldn’t have had a more human illustration of what Covid does… and it didn’t even make a dent. I find that pretty scary, especially because the defendant is far from alone.”

Campbell, 53, admitted being in a gathering of more than two people on 14 November, during England’s second national lockdown, and received a £1,500 fine at Thursday’s hearing.

His conviction came after the Post reported in April last year how Campbell had been frequently posting YouTube videos falsely linking 5G to coronavirus symptoms. After the report was published, Campbell’s channel disappeared from the platform.

In the same month, HTFP reported how Conor himself had warned of a “surge” in conspiracy theories about genuine news stories after being accused of making up an exclusive about a new cemetery which had been built in case extra burial capacity was needed due to the pandemic.

Speaking to HTFP, Conor said: “Since I posted the [Twitter] thread, several people have sent me their personal stories of coronavirus and its impact on their loved ones.

“I think denying or downplaying Covid is a kick in the teeth to the many people whose lives it has taken or changed.

“I wasn’t expecting the tweets to be shared so widely, but I’m glad the doctor’s words are getting the exposure they deserve.

“Hopefully they can make a difference, even if they didn’t change the defendant’s outlook. The response I’ve received has given me a lot of hope.”

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