A man accused of assaulting former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith with a traffic cone has been cleared by a district judge, who ruled he had no case to answer.
Sir Iain had told Manchester Magistrates’ Court that he feared for his wife and her friend when he had the cone “slammed” on to his head as they were followed by protesters hurling abuse at him during the 2021 Conservative Party Conference in the city centre.
On Tuesday, District Judge Paul Goldspring said the evidence that identified Elliot Bovill, 32, as the person caught on CCTV putting the orange and white cone on the 68-year-old MP’s head was “weak” and “tenuous”.
Mr Goldspring dismissed the common assault charge against Mr Bovill, of no fixed address, saying there was no case to answer.
The trial of co-defendants Radical Haslam, 29, of Douglas Street, Salford, and Ruth Wood, 51, of Oak Tree Avenue, Cambridge, continued on Tuesday with Mr Bovill watching from the public gallery.
Haslam and Wood deny using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
Mr Goldspring told the court that Mr Bovill had been identified by a detective on the basis of CCTV footage which was shown to the court on Monday, along with some descriptions of the clothing worn by Sir Iain’s attacker.
He made it clear the politician had been assaulted in the incident but the question was whether there was sufficient evidence to prove Mr Bovill was responsible.
The judge said: “It seems to me there are a number of difficulties with the identification that had been made.
“The fact is that what (the officer) was working with was vague and flawed in the first instance.”
He said the CCTV footage was poor quality and affected by glare.
Mr Goldspring continued: “In my view, the identification evidence is weak, it’s tenuous, and it is completely unsupported by any other evidence.”
The judge upheld the application made by Katrina Walcott for the case against her client to be dismissed.
Ms Walcott said she accepted the detective made the identification “in good faith” but his “honestly held belief” that the man in the footage was Mr Bovill was not good enough.
The judge awarded Mr Bovill £37 in costs to cover the travel expenses he said he had incurred through the prosecution.
On Monday, Sir Iain gave evidence about how a group of protesters followed him on October 4 2021, as he left the conference in the Midland Hotel and walked with his wife Betsy and her friend Primrose Yorke to the Mercure Hotel, where he was due to speak.
He said he turned round after the cone was “smacked down” on his head and told the group “you are pathetic”.
He said the protesters, who were caught on video shouting and banging a drum, were “peculiarly threatening” and he was particularly concerned for the safety of his wife and Mrs Yorke.
The politician said the protesters “frightened those with me, and myself”.
His wife told the court the group that followed them from the hotel “used the c-word, the f-word, they called us scum, Tory scum”.
Lady Duncan Smith said: “I remember particularly, as we went further on, they said ‘Manchester hates you – go back to Chingford and Woodford Green’.”
She said “it was getting quite nasty” as they were confronted with a “barrage of rudery”.
Wood told the court she did not see who put the cone on Sir Iain’s head.
She said she was mainly banging her drum as the group followed the MP, saying she was agreeing with a range of points being shouted at the former cabinet minister by Haslam.
Wood, who manages a project for a homelessness charity, denied calling the group “c****”, saying it was “problematic terminology” she would not use.
She told the judge: “Radical was making some quite good points, I thought. I wasn’t really chanting very much. I was pretty much just drumming along.
“There was nothing particularly threatening about what we were doing, in my mind.
“Not once did he turn round or try to tell us to stop. It just didn’t seem to me as if they were concerned at all.”
Asked about the cone, Wood said: “It seemed to me at the time like a practical joke. It was a surprise because I wasn’t expecting it.
“I don’t think what happened on that day caused alarm to those people.”
Haslam told the court he was surprised when Sir Iain left the conference perimeter and it was a spontaneous decision to follow him.
The defendant, who said he was a writer, poet, general artist and Manchester Metropolitan University student, added that he saw it as an “opportunity to have my voice heard”.
He said: “We saw a politician and saw an opportunity to express our political views.
“We live in a democracy where protest is legal. I was hoping for some sort of exchange.”
The defendant agreed that he shouted a series of comments at the MP, saying “shame on you” to Sir Iain in relation to a range of policies relating to child poverty, climate change and homelessness.
He said he was making a speech which, he accepted, ended with the phrase “Tory scum”.
He told the court he witnessed the cone incident but said he had “no idea” who was responsible.
Haslam said: “He (Sir Iain) didn’t come across as alarmed or distressed. He came across as angry that it had happened.”
Asked if he thought putting the cone on the MP’s head was “reasonable”, Haslam said: “It’s something I would not have done.”
And asked if he thought the incident could have got out hand, he said: “Freedom of speech doesn’t die just because somebody else commits a criminal offence.”