Sir Iain Duncan Smith feared for his wife over traffic cone incident, court told

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has told a court how he feared for his wife and her friend when he had a traffic cone “slammed” on to his head as they were followed by a “threatening” group of protesters hurling abuse at him.

Sir Iain told a district judge how he was subjected to a “cacophony of sound”, a banging drum, abuse and insults, as he walked from the Midland Hotel to the Mercure Hotel, in Manchester city centre, on October 4, 2021, during the Conservative Party conference, with his wife Betsy and one of her friends.

The MP, 68, said he turned round after the cone was “smacked down” on his head and told the group “you are pathetic”, before his party went to the Mercure, where he was due to speak at a fringe meeting about Brexit and other matters.

He said he felt the protesters were “peculiarly threatening” and described how he was particularly concerned for the safety of his wife and her friend, Primrose Yorke.

The politician said the protesters “frightened those with me, and myself”.

He told Manchester Magistrates’ Court on Monday: “I have seen a lot of protests in the course of my time as a politician.

“I’m normally not overly concerned.

“People normally make their points, but not in a threatening way.

“This, I felt, was threatening, it’s as simple as that. I think they set out to be threatening.”

Sir Iain told the court: “It was threatening, it was abusive and my wife and her friend felt that particularly.”

Elliot Bovill court case
Elliot Bovill at Manchester Magistrates’ Court (Steve Allen/PA)

The MP was giving evidence at the trial of Elliot Bovill, 32, of no fixed address, who denies common assault.

Bovill is on trial with Radical Haslam, 29, of Douglas Street, Salford, and Ruth Wood, 52, of Oak Tree Avenue, Cambridge, who both deny using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

Sir Iain gave his evidence in the small, modern courtroom wearing a dark suit over a white shirt with a Brigade of Guards tie. He was sporting a poppy on his lapel alongside a ribbon in support of Ukraine.

The court was shown CCTV footage of the moment the cone was put on Sir Iain’s head as his party crossed a small side road.

The former cabinet minister described the moment “I got a traffic cone slammed on to my head”.

He said: “I got three-quarters of the way across and I felt this blow on the back of my head and neck.

“I could feel something going on to it which knocked my head forward.”

Elliot Bovill court case
Radical Haslam (Steve Allen/PA)

Sir Iain said he took the cone off his head and turned round.

He told the court: “I didn’t know who had done it. ‘You are pathetic’, I said, and I dropped the cone.”

Sir Iain said: “It had been smacked down on my head quite hard.

“They are proper traffic cones and have to weigh a certain amount.”

Tom Wainwright, defending Wood, asked Sir Iain about his resilience to bad language, citing his time in Northern Ireland, with the Scots Guards, and being a Spurs season ticketholder.

The MP said this was “not in any way relevant”.

Sir Iain also told the court he felt the term “Tory scum” was an “appallingly abusive piece of language”.

His wife Betsy told the court how the group which followed them from the hotel “used the c-word, the f-word, they called us scum, Tory scum”.

Elliot Bovill court case
Ruth Wood (Steve Allen/PA)

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 consistent and very loud.”

And Lady Duncan Smith said “it was getting quite nasty,” telling the district judge they were confronted with a “barrage of rudery”.

She said: “It actually got quite worrying for the last bit of the journey.

“I do remember thinking ‘where are the police?’.

“I was very relieved when we made it into the foyer of the hotel.”

Referring to the words “Manchester hates you – go back to Chingford and Woodford Green”, Lady Duncan Smith said she told her friend, Mrs Yorke: “If that isn’t a hate crime, I don’t know what is.”

She said: “The whole thing was very unnerving.”

Mrs Yorke told the court the protesters were shouting loudly and she remembered comments including “f****** Tory c***” and “f*** off out of Manchester”.

She also told the court she witnessed the cone being “rammed” on to Sir Iain’s head.

Mrs Yorke said: “The language and the aggression was worrying.

“We were relentlessly pursued for damn nearly half a mile.”

The court was shown further video footage, taken from social media, of the protesters following Sir Iain and the two women through Manchester, shouting and with a drum banging.

At one point a voice shouts: “Tory scum, Tory scum, Get out of Manchester. You’re not welcome in Manchester. F*** off out of Manchester you Tory scum.”

District judge Paul Goldspring intervened in a dispute about whether the phrase being shouted on the video footage was “f*** off out of Manchester you Tory scum” or “f*** off out of Manchester you Tory c****”.

Mr Goldspring said: “It’s not c****. There’s a ‘sc’.”