A publisher and columnist has had his assault conviction quashed.
The Press’ Danny Lockwood was found guilty of assault in February after a trial at Kirklees Magistrates’ Court.
He had been accused of headbutting Liam Ellis outside the Fox and Hounds Pub in Hanging Heaton in April 2013 following a conversation about the content of The Press.
But during an appeal hearing at Leeds Crown Court today (Friday), Judge James Spencer QC, along with Justices Coulson and Collins, overturned the conviction.
He said they did not believe the headbutt had been inflicted deliberately.
Mr Lockwood, who defended himself during the February trial, was represented by this time by Batley Bulldogs chairman Kevin Nicholas.
The background to the case was that Mr Lockwood had gone to the Fox and Hounds after a family meal, during which he had drunk a glass of wine.
He ordered another glass in the pub and began chatting with a friend.
Mr Lockwood then saw another man enter the pub, who had made threats to kill him several times in the past due to an article in The Press.
He moved from the main part of the pub into the taproom to avoid further confrontation, and to chat with a former colleague.
But before he could begin a conversation, Mr Lockwood said he was bombarded with abuse by Mr Ellis, who branded him and The Press as racist.
Mr Ellis, who had drunk around seven pints of lager, contended that it had simply been a “heated” conversation.
Fed up with what was happening, Mr Lockwood patted Mr Ellis on the shoulder and left the pub.
Mr Ellis followed him a few seconds later, a brief scuffle took place and Mr Lockwood walked away.
Mr Lockwood said he felt threatened and acted in self-defence.
But Mr Ellis claimed that he wanted to apologise for his actions inside the pub.
Mr Ellis needed five stitches under his left eye, while Mr Lockwood suffered a cut to his head.
Judge Spencer reminded the court that this was a criminal case and the burden of proof rested on the prosecution.
“It is not for the appellant to prove he was acting in self defence,” he added.
“It is not only to his credit that Mr Lockwood has no previous convictions, he was not carrying a load of booze. But that when there was the potential for confrontation he went into the taproom out of the way to enjoy his nightcap.”
Earlier in the proceedings, prosecutor Joanne Shepherd had described Mr Ellis as “idealistic” in his views.
But Judge Spencer said: “Another way of looking at it was that it was presumptuous. That he could start to insult [Lockwood’s] work as a journalist and the kind of content that was in his newspaper.”
Judge Spencer said it was likely that Mr Lockwood did appear patronising as he left, but also that the whole experience would have been unpleasant for Mr Lockwood and his former colleague.
He also made reference to what Mr Lockwood said upon leaving, which was: “I’m going now. If you want to follow me that’s up to you.”
Judge Spencer said: “That is capable of all types of interpretation. What interpretation did the complainant put upon it?
“He announced he was going follow. [Mr Lockwood’s former colleague] told him to leave it.
“But with all his intelligence [Mr Ellis] disregarded that advice – he didn’t leave it, he followed.
“It follows that he would still be annoyed when he saw Mr Lockwood in the car park.”
Judge Spencer said it was reasonable to believe that Mr Lockwood thought he was in danger of “imminent attack” when he saw Mr Ellis.
“We are also satisfied so that we can be sure that there was no deliberate headbutt.
“In all the circumstances... we feel that it is entirely reasonable for him to have perceived to have been in danger.
“And therefore his reaction was reasonable and lawful.”