THE publisher of The Press newspaper, Danny Lockwood, has been found guilty of assault following an incident at the Fox and Hounds public house in Hanging Heaton last April.
Deputy District Judge Baldwin sitting at Kirklees Magistrates Court rejected Lockwood’s claim of self defence, after the incident on the night of Saturday April 20, which left 23-year-old Liam Ellis with a cut under his left eye requiring five stitches.
The court heard that Lockwood went into the pub after a family meal out and was chatting with a former schoolfriend in the lounge when former professional rugby player and local pub landlord Tony Halmshaw came in.
“Halmshaw has had a problem with me for many years and has made a number of violent threats against me which the police are aware of,” Lockwood told the court.
“I was aware that he was becoming agitated by my presence, so I went into the taproom to have a chat with another journalist and former colleague, Trevor Watson, while I finished my drink.”
The Press owner, who was editor-in-chief of the Reporter Series of newspapers from 1993-99, said he never got to talk to Mr Watson, because Mr Ellis – a complete stranger – picked an argument about The Press.
In his evidence Liam Ellis, who works behind the bar at the Fox and Hounds, denied calling Lockwood or The Press racist, saying he described stories in the paper as “discriminatory”.
He also denied telling Lockwood “don’t ****ing patronise me you b******,” when the publisher finished his drink and went to leave, tapping Ellis on the shoulder in farewell as he did so.
Ellis told the court that he had been drinking pints of lager in the pub since 8pm, before admitting under cross examination from Lockwood, representing himself, that he’d told police he’d actually been in since 7pm.
He said he’d decided to follow Lockwood to apologise to him, because “Saturday night in the pub was not the best time or place for such a discussion”.
He admitted ignoring advice from Mr Watson to leave well alone.
Mr Ellis told the court he never left the doorway of the pub’s tap room entrance and that Lockwood “ran about five yards and head-butted” him – despite his police statement saying he had left the pub and gone towards the newspaperman, holding his hand out to apologise.
Lockwood insisted Mr Ellis came out pointing at him in a threatening manner, and that the injuries were caused when the men’s heads clashed.
He admitted punching Mr Ellis and forcing him back into the porch. He said a deep cut on the crown of his head, shown on a police photograph, was also caused in the initial clash of heads.
Kerry Oldroyd, a friend of Mr Ellis who was working as a barmaid that night, told the court she was watching from the corner of the tap room bar where she said she was ‘skiving’ rather than working in the busier lounge area.
She claimed Ellis never left the doorway and was suddenly propelled backwards – she thought by a punch, as she did not see any head butt.
In his defence, Lockwood said: “I have been a journalist for more than 36 years and an editor and publisher for over 20. During that time I’ve become adept at avoiding trouble in situations like this.
“I left the lounge because Halmshaw was getting worked up, as he usually does when he sees me.
“I wanted a quick word with Trevor Watson before I left but never got it because a drunk bloke I’d never seen in my life decided I was having a piece of his mind.
“I tried to placate Mr Ellis, laugh him off, but he just kept ramping things up, so I left.
“I was taking a deep breath outside thinking ‘wonderful, I can’t even have a quiet drink’ when he came out after me.
“I didn’t know if he was the pub hardman, whether he was armed, whether he was trying to impress Tony Halmshaw or what, except all the signals were that he was having me.
“We came together and there was a brief melee – it was all over in five to eight seconds.”
Lockwood denied prosecutor Ben Crosland’s assertion that he was frustrated at the premature end to his evening and “decided to teach the whippersnapper a lesson”.
Deputy District Judge Baldwin adjourned sentencing until February 25.