TV and radio presenter Jeremy Vine said a broadcaster accused of stalking him is “the Jimmy Savile of trolling” and “watching this man is like swimming in sewage”.
Vine, who is well known for his shows on BBC Radio 2 and Channel Five, began giving evidence on Wednesday morning in the Nottingham Crown Court trial of former BBC Radio Leeds presenter Alex Belfield, saying he was targeted by an “avalanche of hatred”.
He told a jury: “This is not a regular troll here. This is the Jimmy Savile of trolling.”
Referring to videos shown in court from Belfield’s YouTube show, Vine said he wishes he had not watched some of the content.
He said: “I wished I hadn’t. Watching this man is like swimming in sewage.”
Vine said: “The first time I saw Alex Belfield, or heard his name, was when he uploaded a commentary on me that referred to me as a c***.
“I thought, ‘It’s absolutely disgusting.’
“I found it shocking and distressing and it made me worried.”
He added: “I thought, ‘This guy is dangerous.’
“I have in the past had a physical stalker who followed me.
“That is a picnic compared to this guy.
“It’s like an avalanche of hatred that you get hit by.”
At one point, Vine, who stood in the witness box wearing a blue suit, lighter blue striped shirt and navy tie, said: “I note the defendant is smirking throughout my evidence. It won’t stop me.”
Prosecutors allege that Belfield, 42, caused serious alarm or distress to Vine, former BBC Radio Leeds mid-morning show host Stephanie Hirst, and BBC Radio Northampton’s Bernie Keith.
Opening the Crown’s case against Belfield, prosecutor John McGuinness QC said Vine was subjected to a “constant bombardment” of harassing tweets and YouTube videos in 2020.
The court was told Belfield, of Mapperley, Nottingham, started out as a broadcast assistant on local radio and in recent years set up a YouTube channel known as Celebrity Radio.
He denies eight counts of stalking alleged to have been committed between 2012 and 2021, including three counts relating to two managers and another presenter who worked at BBC Radio Leeds.
Vine told the jury he had to explain to his then-13-year-old daughter that he was worried one of Belfield’s 500,000 online followers could “have a knife or acid or something”.
He said: “I saw her shrink.”
Vine said it was a year before his younger daughter, now 15, regained her confidence in leaving the family home.
Looking at the defendant, he said: “She’s his victim as well, and he doesn’t even know her name.”
The presenter said: “There will be one person of the 500,000 who will want to hurt someone coming out of my house. If it’s me, fair enough. If it’s my daughter, no.”
He added: “It felt like I had a fish hook in my face and my flesh was being torn and the only way to avoid further pain was to stay completely still.
“I was brought so low. I just thought, ‘There’s no point broadcasting if the effect is that I’ve got this.'”
Vine became visibly upset in the witness box as he remembered someone calling him a “thieving toe-rag” after he posted online about his late father – a reference, he said, to a “completely and utterly untrue” accusation made by the defendant.
The jury was shown videos in which Belfield accuses the BBC presenter of stealing £1,000 in BBC licence fee money to spend on a memorial service for his friend, the radio executive John Myers, in 2019.
Vine’s voice broke as he explained how the first comment after he posted a Facebook tribute to his late father said: “What would your father have said if he had known his son was a thieving toe-rag?”
Crying, Vine said: “I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle it.”
He said he contacted the user who posted the comment, which was later removed, and was told they had seen Belfield’s YouTube channel.
Vine said he was left “numb with fear” when Belfield asked his followers for details about his family and friends.
The witness said: “These videos are still online.
“In a thousand years’ time, my great-great-grandchildren will see stories about how I stole £1,000 and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Asked how he felt about being accused of stealing money to honour a friend, he said: “It couldn’t get any worse. It’s disgusting.”
He said: “All I have is my reputation for being honest. That’s all a journalist has. Once that goes, you can’t be a journalist anymore.”
Vine said he talked to other broadcasters about stalking but “no-one had seen anything like this”.
He added: “This is absolutely Olympic-level stalking – even for broadcasting.”
The presenter said of Belfield: “Every reference to him makes my flesh creep.”
Vine said he also wanted to correct Belfield’s many references to his £700,000 BBC salary, saying it was “less than half that”.
The broadcaster said he was “staggered” when Belfield suggested in court that he was not afraid of the defendant.
Vine said: “I’m staggered. It’s fine to be cross-examined by the accused stalker but for a person to say I can’t have been afraid of him is staggering.
“Yes, I was afraid of you, and I still am.”
Vine compared his attitude to Belfield with a group of anti-vax activists who were reported to have approached his home recently, adding: “The threat I felt Belfield posed to me is several dozen times higher.
“The reason is not that he would turn up in person, it was because he doesn’t know, and I don’t know, what one of 500,000 others might attack me.
“And he’s doing his best to drive them to do it.”
He told the court he received 5,000 to 10,000 hateful tweets after the defendant’s comments.
The case was adjourned until Thursday.