Man who accosted Sir Chris Whitty shouts 'I'm West Ham till I die' as he is jailed for eight weeks

·5-min read
Jonathan Chew was one of two men who filmed themselves with Chris Whitty in St James' Park - Kirsty O'Connor /PA
Jonathan Chew was one of two men who filmed themselves with Chris Whitty in St James' Park - Kirsty O'Connor /PA

A man who tried to take a selfie with Sir Chris Whitty smoked a vape and shouted “I'm West Ham till I die" as he was jailed for eight weeks.

Jonathan Chew, 24, accosted Prof Whitty as he walked through St James' Park, central London, on June 27 last year.

Lewis Hughes, also 24, put the scientist in a headlock after he declined to have his photo taken. A video of the incident was circulated on social media.

At Westminster magistrates' court on Thursday, Chew pleaded guilty to a charge of using threatening, abusive or insulting words with intent to cause Prof Whitty harassment, alarm or distress. He also admitted a charge of obstructing police constable Steven Ozden by giving false details. A charge of assault was dismissed.

As he was sentenced, Chew took out a vaping device and began smoking. He then chanted "I am West Ham till I die" as he was led out of court.

Senior District Judge Paul Goldspring said Chew's disrespect for the court system was "breathtaking".

As well as serving eight weeks in prison, Chew must also pay £930 in costs plus £128 court surcharge, totalling £1,058.

Chew boasted that the amount he was being asked to pay was "peanuts" and said 12 months to pay was more than enough time.

Judge Goldspring told Chew: "It appears you have a penchant to have a selfie with people you take to be celebrities. You had seen Prof Whitty on the TV and wanted a selfie with him. It was obvious that Prof Whitty was very uncomfortable, perhaps intimidated and humiliated."

He said Prof Whitty was entitled to go about his work and daily life without the fear of being accosted by "someone like you".

"Your behaviour doesn't give me any confidence that your remorse is genuine," said the judge.

"I accept your intention was not hostile or intimidatory, but it unfortunately turned into those things.

"Your contempt for these proceedings and this court have been breathtaking."

Hughes, a former estate agent from Romford in Essex, last year admitted a charge of assault by beating and was handed an eight-week prison sentence which was suspended for two years.

The court was shown footage of the pair shouting and laughing as they filmed Prof Whitty and he tried to get away. He eventually reached nearby officers who intervened.

Prof Whitty, who did not give evidence at the hearing on Thursday, was assessed by medics and did not suffer any injuries.

Judge Goldspring said he did not believe Chew targeted Prof Whitty because of his views on Covid-19, and this was "no longer part of the matrix".

However, he said Prof Whitty's position in the public eye was part of why the incident occurred, adding: "Had he been anyone else, there would have been no prospect that they wanted a selfie."

He said the fact the video was uploaded to the internet was an "added humiliation" to the scientist.

"It's artificial to try to delineate who did what when it's a group action - they are equally culpable," said the judge.

"There has to be an element of deterrent to stop those who target those who don't choose to be in the public eye."

Rabah Kherbane, defending, said in mitigation that Chew did not upload the video to the internet, and that this was not a protest against Prof Whitty or his views. He described it as a "chance meeting" and said Chew did not have any protest "paraphernalia".

He said Chew has autism, ADHD, a learning disability and neurological impairment, and his "maturity is less than would be expected of a 24 year old". He also has severe communication difficulties, the court heard.

"He has difficulty reading facial expressions and gauging the amount of distress he is causing someone," said Mr Kherbane.

Iestyn Morgan, prosecuting, told the court: "Prof Whitty was walking through St James' Park in the City of Westminster - he was on his own.

"He noticed two people approaching. One of those was Lewis Hughes, who this court has sentenced and dealt with on a previous occasion. He asked for a photo. Prof Whitty replied 'no' as he always does in those circumstances.

"Hughes placed his arm around Prof Whitty. Chew stepped in front of Prof Whitty. He was filming the matter on a camera. Prof Whitty noted the smell of alcohol on the two men. He tried pushing through them to the safety nearby of a number of police constables.

"There was pushing and shoving that Chew was a part of and clearly that had an impact on Prof Whitty.

"He was able to get away towards police vehicles. Police stopped the two defendants and Prof Whitty went on his way. Instead of giving his own details, he gave the details of his brother and an address that had previously been linked to his brother.

"This did cause a waste of police resources because on July 1 police attended the address given to arrest his brother. At the address they found that he wasn't there. A man identified as Harry was there. Subsequent enquiries found he was the new inhabitant of the address and the brother no longer resided at the location."

Chew's previous offences include battery in 2015, when he shoved someone because he was told he couldn't use a toilet at a Pizza Hut.

The judge said Chew had an "appalling record" which included public order offences and that "even somebody with autism recognises that the word 'no' means 'no'".

He is currently on licence after being released from custody in July 2020 has been under the supervision of the probation service.

His prison sentence of eight weeks begins immediately, as the judge decided not to suspend it.

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