Protester holding gallows told MP ‘this is what we do to traitors’, court hears

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A man threatened a Labour MP by holding up makeshift gallows with a noose outside Parliament and telling him “this is what we do to traitors”, a court has heard.

Lance O’Connor, 57, allegedly 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.

The MP saw O’Connor standing with makeshift 6ft-tall gallows and a noose, Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard on Tuesday.

It is alleged the defendant then pointed at the object and said to Mr Kyle: “This is what happens to traitors.”

Mr Kyle, 51, told the court that he felt “chilled” and “threatened”, especially in light of Sir David Amess being murdered a week earlier.

Giving evidence, the MP said: “About two o’clock I had just finished a lunch meeting and was heading back from the lunch meeting towards Parliament.”

Mr Kyle said he was walking towards the corner of Bridge Road near the Pc Keith Palmer memorial when he heard his name being called.

Lance O’Connor, right, outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court (PA)

(PA Wire)

He said: “I could hear a voice calling my name but there were multiple voices and other things being shouted.

“When your name is called, you instinctively look over, and that is what I did.”

Asked what the tone of the voice was, he said: “It was in an angry shout.”

He added: “I looked briefly at what I was seeing and then away but then as I proceeded I turned back to have another look because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

“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 did the impact of what I had seen struck me.

“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 also saw the man pointing up to 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 of Sir David’s killing the before, saying: “There was an atmosphere around Westminster that was chilling, so to see that was horrifying.”

Martin Smith, defending, asked Mr Kyle if he had spoken to the defendant during the encounter, which the MP denied, adding that MPs are “trained” by security services not to engage with threatening protesters.

He said: “I would not engage with anyone in any shape and form with someone who is making a threat to my life.”

Pressed on whether he knew for certain the defendant said the words “This is what we do to traitors”, Mr Kyle replied: “To the best of my knowledge, I’m pretty sure it was the person who was pointing to the gallows whose mouth was moving.”

The court heard that another man, Stephen Tiller, who was going to another protest, approached the defendant when he saw the gallows, asking “What is that for?”

Mr Tiller told the court: “He said ‘All those f****** in there’ and pointed towards Parliament.”

O’Connor, who appeared in court holding a wooden walking stick in the shape of a gallows with a small noose attached, told the court he was protesting about “draconian” lockdown measures that were in force at the time.

O’Connor said 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.”

The defendant told the court 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’.”

O’Connor said he built the object “as a statement to the Government that treason is still punishable by the gallows”.

Lance O’Connor denies targeting Labour MP Peter Kyle with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress (Victoria Jones/PA)

(PA Wire)

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.”

“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 like 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.

Mr Kyle, who has been the MP for Hove since 2015, was appointed shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland last year.

Mr Kyle, a former charity sector executive, also previously served as a shadow justice minister and a shadow education minister.

O’Connor, of Plaistow, east London, denies targeting Mr Kyle with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

The trial continues.

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