Covid denier convicted of ‘abusing’ NHS workers while filming inside hospital

A Covid denier who filmed inside a hospital to try and prove the coronavirus pandemic was a hoax has been found guilty of a public order offence.

Debbie Hicks, 47, was filming inside Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in Gloucester to try and show the hospital was empty.

She was confronted by two health workers on a stairwell of the hospital tower block who recognised her voice from a previous video she had recorded inside the hospital and livestreamed on Facebook.

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In a confrontation lasting less than a minute, Hicks was “aggressive and dismissive” to the two therapists, Kate Williams and Sophie Brown, leaving them “distressed and intimidated”.

Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in Gloucester

She was charged with an offence under the Public Order Act of using threatening words or behaviour likely to cause harassment.

At the time of the offence on December 28 2020, Gloucestershire was under Tier 3 restrictions and days later would move to Tier 4 with people ordered to stay at home.

During her trial at Gloucestershire Magistrates’ Court, lawyer representing Hicks argued she was acting as a “guerrilla journalist” during the filming to report what was happening inside the hospital.

In the first video, filmed on December 27, Hicks said: “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?

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“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.”

The following day, Hicks returned to the hospital where Miss Williams and Miss Brown challenged her after seeing her acting suspiciously on a stairwell.

She was arrested by police the following day at her home in Stratford Road, Stroud, Gloucestershire.

During a trial earlier this month, Hicks had denied using threatening and abusive words towards the women.

She told the court she was attempting to demonstrate to the public that Government restrictions were disproportionate, and the hospital was not overflowing with patients.

Lawyers representing Hicks had suggested her conduct was “reasonable” in the circumstances and that she had a right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

They also suggested the prosecution was not “proportionate” in interfering with Hicks’ rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

District Judge Nicholas Wattam had adjourned giving his verdict to consider the case law.

He said Miss Williams and Miss Brown had given evidence that was “cogent, credible and without exaggeration”.

“I have no doubt Miss Williams and Miss Brown felt threatened by Mrs Hicks’ words and behaviour on the stairwell that afternoon,” he said.

“She was aggressive and dismissive of them and tried to record a non-consenting interview of them while holding a mobile phone.

“They were distressed by her and both told me that they were intimidated by her and that they were frightened they would be streamed online.

“Both were aware of the footage the previous day and found her running commentary distressing.

“Taken together Mrs Hicks’ behaviour did amount to harassment and the words used were threatening and abusive.”

The judge said the prosecution had proven its case, but before he could find her guilty, he had to consider whether Hicks had a defence in law to the offence because her conduct was “reasonable” and also take into account her rights to freedom of expression.

“Miss Williams and Miss Brown had the misfortune to encounter Mrs Hicks in their place of work,” he said.

“They do not deserve to be molested by Mrs Hicks when at work and should be protected by the law.

“I have concluded the prosecution was reasonable in the circumstances of the case and Mrs Hicks has not discharged the burden of proof that her defence requires.

“In short the defence has not satisfied me that her conduct was reasonable, therefore I must find you guilty.”

In mitigation, Merry Van Woodenburg, said: “She does not have a job and lost any opportunity of employment. She is a registered psychologist and teacher. Her defence was funded by others who have similar public concerns.”

Hicks added: “I am out of work and I am not claiming benefits. Just my husband’s salary and we are in debt and struggling.”

The judge fined Hicks £120 and ordered her to pay £775 prosecution costs and victim surcharge of £34.

Miss Van Woodenburg said Hicks planned to appeal direct on a point of law to the High Court by way of a “state the case”.