THE publisher of The Press, Danny Lockwood, has had a conviction for assault overturned after a judge branded his accuser and another witness’s evidence as “unreliable”.
Liam Ellis, 24, a Huddersfield University student and barman at the Fox and Hounds pub in Hanging Heaton, had claimed that he was left needing stitches in his cheekbone after an unprovoked attack by Mr Lockwood in April 2013.
The publisher, 55, who lives in York, was found guilty of assault in February after a trial at Kirklees Magistrates’ Court.
But during the appeal hearing at Leeds Crown Court last Friday (June 13) Judge James Spencer QC, along with Justices Coulson and Collins, overturned the conviction.
Judge Spencer said they did not believe the injuries had been inflicted deliberately by a headbutt and dismissed Ellis’s claim that he had followed Mr Lockwood outside “to apologise” for talking about the content of his newspaper.
They said he acted entirely lawfully and in self-defence.
Mr Ellis, who had drunk up to seven pints of lager having been in the pub all night, admitted that another customer, Trevor Watson – a former journalist colleague of Mr Lockwood – had told him to “leave it” when he said he was going after the other man.
He had told the court there had been a three-way conversation between himself, Mr Lockwood and Mr Watson about The Press during which he said he had described the paper’s content as “discriminatory”.
Mr Ellis, cross-examined by defence solicitor Kevin Nicholas, said he knew who Mr Lockwood was but had never met him before. Quizzed by Judge Spencer, he couldn’t remember who started the conversation or much detail about it.
But Mr Lockwood told the court there was no “three-way conversation” involving Mr Watson, who he had gone into the pub tap room to catch up with, and that despite all his attempts to placate the younger man, Mr Ellis got more and more argumentative.
“He didn’t call the newspaper discriminatory, he called it racist and he called me racist,” said Mr Lockwood. “I tried to laugh it off and reason with him. I even offered to give him £100 if he could find six ‘racist’ stories in the paper. But he just kept ramping it up, so I finished my drink and left.”
Lockwood said he tapped Mr Ellis on the shoulder in farewell as he went, which he said the younger man responded angrily to.
A friend and fellow bar worker of Mr Ellis, Kerry Oldroyd, described the tap as “a two-handed push” in Mr Ellis’s back – at odds with Mr Ellis’s own recollection.
Mr Lockwood said he stood outside and paused momentarily to take a few deep breaths, when Mr Ellis came out of the pub and at him. He admitted punching the younger man and forcing him back into the pub porch, an incident that took just a few seconds.
“As soon as he covered up his head I turned and walked away,” he said. Mr Lockwood said that when he got home he discovered a nasty cut on the top of his head, which he believed was caused when the two men came together, and may have caused Mr Ellis’s cut cheekbone.
The court was shown new photographic evidence of Mr Lockwood’s injury, and also of the scene which defence solicitor Mr Nicholas said contradicted Ms Oldroyd’s statement.
Summing up, Judge Spencer reminded the court that this was a criminal case and the burden of proof rested on the prosecution.
“It is not for the appellant to prove he was acting in self-defence,” he added.
Judge Spencer referred to an incident shortly after Mr Lockwood went into the pub. He was talking to an old schoolfriend when another man and his wife entered. The man had made threats against Mr Lockwood numerous times over a 15-year period, following a story which appeared in the Dewsbury Reporter about his business going bust.
“It is not only to his credit that Mr Lockwood has no previous convictions, he was not carrying a load of booze. But when there was the potential for confrontation he went into the taproom out of the way to enjoy his nightcap,” said Judge Spencer.
During the prosecution case Crown lawyer Joanne Shepherd had described Mr Ellis as “idealistic” in his views, in describing his conversation with the publisher.
But Judge Spencer said: “Another way of looking at it was that it was presumptuous. That he could start to insult [Lockwood’s] work as a journalist and the kind of content that was in his newspaper.”
Judge Spencer believed it likely that Mr Lockwood did appear patronising as he left the pub, which he believed angered Mr Ellis, but also that the whole experience would have been unpleasant for Mr Lockwood and his former colleague.
He felt Mr Ellis would have still been angry when he went outside.
“He announced he was going follow. [Mr Lockwood’s former colleague] told him to ‘leave it’.
“But with all his intelligence he disregarded that advice – he didn’t leave it, he followed. It follows that he would still be annoyed when he saw Mr Lockwood in the car park.”
Judge Spencer said it was reasonable to believe that Mr Lockwood thought he was in danger of “imminent attack” when he saw Mr Ellis.
“We are also satisfied so that we can be sure that there was no deliberate headbutt.
“In all the circumstances ... we feel that it is entirely reasonable for him to have perceived to have been in danger. And therefore his reaction was reasonable and lawful.”