A woman acting as a “guerrilla journalist” when she filmed inside a hospital in an attempt to prove her belief that lockdown measures were disproportionate has been convicted of a public order offence.
Debbie Hicks, 47, a former teacher and psychologist, filmed twice at the Gloucestershire Royal hospital in Gloucester in December 2020 and told staff who challenged her she could do what she wanted as she paid her taxes.
Hicks, from Stroud, argued that she was exercising her right to freedom of expression and trying to expose what she believed was a false government narrative that hospitals were full of patients with Covid.
But finding her guilty of using threatening words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, the district judge Nicholas Wattam said staff had the right to work without being molested.
Richard Posner, prosecuting, told Cheltenham magistrates court that Hicks, who had no previous convictions, went to the hospital on 27 12 월 2020 because she felt restrictions were over the top.
Live-streaming her visit, she could be heard saying: “It is absolutely dead, it’s a ghost town, I’ve never seen it so quiet. Where are all the people dying from the second wave?
“This is the proof we’ve needed in Gloucestershire, we’ve been locked down into tier 3 for this? An empty hospital, this is a disgrace. All our people in our country desperately waiting for treatment … This is making me so angry walking around here. Look at the truth.”
On the second visit the following day, she was challenged by two staff. Posner said: “Ms Hicks’ response was confrontational, derogatory and aggressive.”
Katie Williams, an occupational therapist who challenged Hicks, said she had been working under extreme pressure for almost a year and had found the incident distressing.
Sophie Brown, a senior physiotherapist, said when she asked Hicks not to film, Hicks replied that she paid her taxes “so I can do what I want”.
Hicks’ lawyer Merry Van Woodenberg told the court that Hicks was acting as a guerrilla journalist and she had a right to freedom of expression under article 10 of the European convention on human rights.
The barrister said her client had lost her chance of employment because of her political views and told the court her fees had been paid by others who had similar concerns to Hicks.
But finding her guilty, the judge said: “Miss Williams and Miss Brown had the misfortune to encounter Mrs Hicks in their place of work. They do not deserve to be molested by Mrs Hicks when at work and should be protected by the law.”
Hicks told the court she was unemployed and struggling with debt. She was fined £120 and told to pay prosecution costs of £775 and a victim surcharge – which is used to fund services for victims – of £34, a total of £929.