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A man has been found guilty of threatening a Labour MP by holding up a makeshift gallows with a noose outside Parliament and telling him “This is what we do to traitors”.
Lance O’Connor, 57, called out the name of Hove MP Peter Kyle in Parliament Square, central London, while he was walking back to his office in Portcullis House on October 20 last year, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard.
The 51-year-old MP, who was appointed shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland last year, saw O’Connor standing with the makeshift 6ft-tall gallows and noose after hearing someone call his name.
Mr Kyle said he then saw the defendant pointing at the object and saying: “This is what happens to traitors.”
District Judge Neeta Minhas found O’Connor guilty of causing Mr Kyle harassment, alarm or distress after a short trial on Tuesday morning.
She handed O’Connor a conditional discharge for 12 months, meaning he must not commit another offence within that period.
She also ordered him to pay £660, including £200 to Mr Kyle.
She told him: “I make the finding that he was caused harm, alarm or distress by your behaviour, by the gallows”, adding that Mr Kyle had felt so threatened that he ran away.
“I make the finding that there can be no other reason while holding these gallows and directing them towards a Member of Parliament save to cause harassment, alarm or distress.”
O’Connor, who appeared in court holding a wooden walking stick resembling a gallows with a noose, said he would be appealing against the decision and muttered “Complete travesty” as he left court.
One of his supporters in the public gallery – who included Piers Corbyn – said “Disgusting behaviour” and was told to stand up by the judge as she left the room.
During the trial, Mr Kyle said he felt “chilled” and “threatened”, especially in light of Conservative MP Sir David Amess being murdered a week earlier.
Giving evidence, Mr Kyle said he was walking towards the corner of Bridge Road near the Pc Keith Palmer memorial in Parliament Square when he heard his name being called.
Asked what the tone of the voice was, he said: “It was in an angry shout.”
He added: “I saw a man standing there holding gallows with a noose in Parliament Square.
“When I looked briefly the first time I did not quite take it in. It was only when I continued walking that the impact of what I had seen struck me.”
As I walked into parliament earlier this little charmer shouted ‘this is what we do with traitors’ at me, pointing at his gallows and noose.
Out of the two of us I’m the one who’s life and routine must adapt, not his.
Our politics really is broken. pic.twitter.com/vG8vW68tNc
— Peter Kyle MP (@peterkyle) October 20, 2021
The MP then said: “The word ‘traitor’ was being used and then, when I looked across the road again, a man said ‘This is what we do with traitors’.”
Mr Kyle said he saw the man pointing up at the noose and took a photo which he later posted on Twitter, and was shown to the court.
He said he then ran back to his office as he saw the action as a “direct threat to myself and a direct threat to other members of Parliament”.
“I was shocked, I was chilled, I was threatened,” he added.
Mr Kyle spoke about how Sir David had been killed a week before, saying: “There was an atmosphere around Westminster that was chilling so to see that was horrifying.”
O’Connor later told the court he did not intend to cause distress but was protesting about “draconian” lockdown measures that were in force at the time.
The defendant claimed he did not know that Mr Kyle was an MP, adding: “I had never seen him before. I do not watch anything to do with Parliament.”
He claimed that Mr Kyle had come up to him and asked: “Do you think that is appropriate?”
O’Connor said: “I pointed across the road at the Palace of Westminster and said ‘What I think is inappropriate is the draconian measures the people in Parliament have made’.”
He also said he built the object “as a statement to the Government that treason is still punishable by the gallows”.
Alex Alawode, prosecuting, pressed him on the gallows being “threatening” as an “instrument of execution”.
O’Connor said: “I took that as a symbol. It is a bit of plastic, how am I going to hang anybody with a bit of plastic?”
Mr Alawode asked him if he thought it would cause distress in the wake of Sir David’s murder, and he said: “I did not consider it, to be quite honest with you.
“Now I can see that some people can find it – not some people, MPs – but they are public servants and if they cannot take this sort of criticism maybe they should be in a different career.”
O’Connor repeatedly answered “I totally refute that allegation” when he was asked if he had called Mr Kyle’s name, used the word “traitor” or intended to threaten the MP.
O’Connor, of Plaistow, east London, had denied targeting Mr Hove with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress.