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Man found guilty of public order offence after drag queen story time protest

A man has been found guilty of a public order offence after protesting against a drag queen story-telling event for children at Tate Britain.

Lance O’Connor, of Plaistow in east London, was accused of being “aggressive and intimidating” towards organisers and attendees – and making a series of comments that were motivated by “hostility relating to sexual orientation and transgender identity”.

The 59-year-old had denied two counts of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

Lance O’Connor arriving at court
Lance O’Connor arrives at Westminster Magistrates’ Court ahead of his trial (Aaron Chown/PA)

District judge Neeta Minhas convicted him at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday of the offence against one of the gallery’s operations managers, Matthew Rowan.

But she found O’Connor not guilty of the charge in relation to police liaison officer Anderson De Santis.

The judge said the defendant’s comments to Mr Rowan went “beyond freedom of expression into hate speech”.

O’Connor will be sentenced at the same court on September 11.

The Tate, in Millbank, central London, had been hosting Drag Queen Story Hour UK on February 11, with tales told by Aida H Dee, who was described on the gallery’s website as “the first drag artist in Europe to read stories to children in a nursery”.

People demonstrating against the event were at the scene, as well as counter-protesters.

The prosecution told court that the defendant, who identified himself as “Lance”, was part of a group of five people who went to Tate Britain to protest against the story-telling session.

O’Connor was accused of being “aggressive and intimidating” towards Mr Rowan, who was standing outside the event doors, and of displaying the same behaviour to members of the public trying to attend.

Prosecutor Luke Staton said: “At one stage, when a mother and daughter attempted to enter the event room, the Crown say that the defendant said words to the effect of ‘They are indoctrinating children in there. There’s a man dressed as a woman and he is defending paedophiles’.

“The defendant, the Crown say, also said to Mr Rowan words to the effect of ‘Do you think it’s appropriate for a man to wear women’s clothing?’ and made further comments about grooming and paedophilia.”

Pc De Santis arrived at the scene after being notified of a “commotion” and is said to have heard the defendant make a comment about attendees indoctrinating young children into paedophilia.

O’Connor was arrested the same day and denied during police interviews that he said: “Gay people dressed as women are paedophiles.”

Giving evidence, Mr Rowan, called the defendant’s demeanour “quite aggressive” and said he accused him of crossing the line into “hate speech”.

Asked how he felt after the interaction, the gallery operations manager said: “It was quite upsetting.

“To be in my place of work, which should be a safe place for everyone, to then have someone who is aggressive and filming me and trying to get a reaction out of me, it was very uncomfortable.

“As a gay man I felt very uncomfortable with the claims of indoctrination, grooming and talking about paedophilia as they are tropes that have been used against gay people, to my knowledge, growing up.”

He added that it “hurt” to hear those kinds of accusations because “those sort of things were said to me in the past in the ’80s as I was growing up”.

Pc De Santis told the court he was “very uncomfortable” and “alarmed” after hearing O’Connor’s comments.

Sundeep Pankhania, defending, said his client “does not hold any non-trans ideologies” and was protesting that day because of a “link” he believed existed between Aida H Dee and an alleged convicted paedophile – Darren Moore – whom the court heard is now dead.

The defendant confirmed he was motivated by the storyteller’s “very close links” to Moore.

“He done a eulogy for him on the internet and also he done a GoFundMe page (for his funeral),” O’Connor said when giving evidence.

He added that he wanted to make parents “aware” of the links and was “trying to protect the children”.

He denied intending to cause anyone, including Mr Rowan and Pc De Santis, harassment, alarm or distress and denied being “aggressive”.

O’Connor said: “My hand has been on my Bible every question I have answered. I don’t tell lies.”

“I’m a truthful man,” he added. “I consider myself an honourable man.”