Billy Charlton trial: Sunderland protester had 'gone beyond' freedom of speech, court told

Police launched an investigation into a public protester after it was felt he had "gone beyond" freedom of speech and crossed into criminally inciting hatred, jurors have heard.

Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 3:46 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 3:49 pm
Billy Charlton

William Charlton, known as Billy, is on trial accused of stirring up racial hatred during a series of marches organised after a woman claimed she had been attacked by foreign men at a flat in Sunderland.

The 55-year-old has said his intention was to "protect the women of Sunderland from rape and sexual violence" when he spoke at the planned demonstrations in the city.

But prosecutor Sharon Beattie has told Newcastle Crown Court the protection of women was an "excuse" by Charlton, to hide his true intention "to stir people up against Muslims, Asians, black people and the police."

Charlton of no fixed address, denies five charges of stirring up racial hatred between November 2016 and July 2017.

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Jurors have now heard from a Detective Inspector, who was involved from the outset of the investigation into Charlton and the marches.

The detective said the investigation started after a meeting with her Superintendent in May 2017.

The officer told the court: "There was a discussion had where I felt Mr Charlton was potentially inciting racial hatred and I suggested we have an investigation around that."

The detective said she tasked a colleague to help gather all available material about the marches.

She added: "From the material that was coming in and on social media, I felt the inciting racial hatred threshold had been crossed and freedom of speech had gone beyond that and an offence had been committed."

The officer said the material gathered from the investigation was passed to the CPS for a decision on whether the police had a case against Charlton.

The court heard Charlton had claimed on social media and during speeches that women's drinks were being spiked in city bars by sex attackers.

The officer said police records indicated, between September 1 2016 and July 31 2017 there were 13 reports of drinks being spiked in the city centre of Sunderland.

But the inspector said out of the 13, ten claims were either retracted or due to intoxication.

The court heard the three remaining claims were logged as "crimes" but two resulted in the alleged victims making a change to what was initially reported.

Just one was left unsolved.

During cross examination by Charlton's barrister Glenn Gatland, the officer said she did not believe there had ever been an "issue" with drink spiking in the city.

But the officer did confirm that Northumbria Police had set up Operation Inclusion in November 2018, which involved officers distributing anti-spiking devices to city pubs as part of a public campaign, but said she was not directly involved in it.

Charlton denies all charges.

The trial continues.