Billy Charlton trial: Sunderland protester denies he is a racist and says he eats 'Indians, kebabs and pizzas, like everyone else'

A public protester accused of spreading hatred against "immigrants, Asians and black people" has denied outright that he is a racist and said he just wants a "calm life".

Wednesday, 12th December 2018, 3:13 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th December 2018, 3:15 pm
Billy Charlton speaking in Sunderland

William Charlton, known as Billy, has told jurors he has "coloured friends", that he only ever rants about "extremists" during public speeches and knows that "not everybody who goes to a mosque is a bad person".

The 54-year-old, of no fixed address, is on trial accused of six offences of stirring up racial hatred during city centre speeches in Sunderland.

Charlton, who has a previous conviction for racially or religiously aggravated harassment, has now been in the witness box for the first time during his trial at Newcastle Crown Court and has told jurors: "I would never racially abuse anybody."

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His barrister Nicholas Lane asked Charlton if he had "negative attitudes towards people who aren't white?"

Charlton told the court: "I would go and tell that to my coloured friends.

"I treat everyone the same, I treat everyone with respect. All I expect is to be treated the same back.

"It doesn't matter what colour you are, where you are from, I don't care if you have millions in the bank or if you are skint.

"You treat me with respect and you get respect back."

Charlton told jurors he eats "Indians, kebabs and pizzas, like everyone else" and that he has a mixed race nephew.

Jurors have seen video footage of Charlton speaking at public protests, both in Sunderland and at other events around the country.

Charlton told the court he only speaks about "radicalised Islam" and realises that not everyone is the same.

He told jurors: "Radicalised Islamists means these people who go and fight with ISIS and blow up our planes and things like that.

"Extremists, that's what I talk about, extremists.

"I don't see why those people have a place in our country. I can't understand why our government, who have stated who the extremists are, or suspected extremists are, welcome them to live amongst us.

"It's a recipe for disaster isn't it?"

Charlton told the court radicalised extremists are "nutters" and added: "Not everybody that goes to a mosque is a bad person, it's only extremists."

Jurors have heard Charlton was at protests attended by far-right groups in the past.

Charlton told the court: "I'm only there to talk about terrorists, these people are talking about mad things."

The court heard Charlton was convicted of racially or religiously aggravated harassment at Skipton magistrates court in 2007.

Charlton, who had been working in the area at the time, told jurors he was charged following a row with shop staff over a take-away meal they had not delivered.

He told the court he pleaded guilty because the frequent adjourned court hearings, where he initially maintained his not guilty plea, ended up "too much hassle" after he moved to work in a different part of the country and kept having to take time off and sacrifice time with his family.

Charlton said: "It was something I thought would never, ever matter in my life again.

"It was better to take the fine, I was losing £200 per day."

Charlton has told jurors about his background in the army, as a young man, followed by a career in the construction industry.

His barrister Nicholas Lane asked what prompted Charlton's initial interest in the English Defence League (EDL).

Charlton told jurors: "I am from a military family, my dad, grandad and brothers have been in the army and always proud to serve.

"When I saw images splattered across all the papers of people burning poppies, that disrespects my country.

"It seemed one lad was prepared to stand up and that was Tommy Robinson. I am not saying I agree with everything he has done, all I'm saying is he was prepared to stand up."

Charlton said he started turning up at speeches after chatting to people on Facebook, just to have "a bit crack with them".

But he said his interest in the English Defence League and the Sunderland Defence League eventually stopped.

He told jurors: "I stopped going to the EDL marches. The reason being, Tommy Robinson had turned and everything had started splintering, everyone was fighting, I can't be doing with things like that, I am out for a calm life."

Charlton denies all charges.

The trial continues.