A Stroud woman who live streamed from inside a hospital in a bid to prove the Covid-19 emergency was a ‘sham’ has told a court she was acting as a ‘guerilla investigative journalist’.
Debbie Hicks, of Stratford Road, made the claim while on trial on a charge, which she denies, of using threatening words or behaviour likely to cause harassment to two NHS workers she encountered in Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in December 2020.
Cheltenham Magistrates Court, sitting in a Nightingale courthouse in Cirencester, heard Ms Hicks went into a ward at the Gloucester hospital when the city was under Tier 3 restrictions, and started filming while giving a commentary.
“Ms Hicks had no legitimate reason to visit the hospital,” prosecutor Richard Posner told the court.
“She felt that the lockdown restrictions were disproportionate and she set about live streaming her video on Facebook on December 27.
“The following day Ms Hicks returned following criticism that she didn’t focus on the main part of the hospital. During this visit she was challenged by two therapists.
“One of the therapists recognised her voice from the previous day’s video and challenged her. Ms Hicks’ response was confrontational, derogatory and aggressive. ”
Ms Hicks could heard saying in the first video, filmed on December 27, 2020: “This is a completely empty hospital. We’ve been put in Tier 3, for this?
“This is an absolute disgrace. We’ve been robbed of Christmas for this.”
The court was also shown the second video, filmed the following day, in which Ms Hicks responded to online criticism that she didn’t visit the main part of the hospital.
Ms Hicks said in commentary: “If there are any patients in this hospital they will be in these wards. However it is very quiet.”
A short while later two NHS therapists challenged Ms Hicks after seeing her acting suspiciously.
Katie Williams, an occupational therapist, said she asked Ms Hicks why was she filming and she responded that she had a right to film patients. She was aggressive and hostile, said Ms Williams.
Ms Williams told the court she had been working under extreme pressure when she came into contact with Ms Hicks and said: “No-one in the NHS has time to deal with things like this.”
Sophie Brown, a senior physiotherapist, told the court she asked Ms Hicks not to film, but Ms Hicks responded: “Why not?”
Ms Hicks then allegedly put her phone in Ms Brown’s face and told her she paid her taxes and her wages ‘so I can do what I want.’
Ms Brown was then asked how this made her feel and said: “We worked so hard so to say that what we were doing was a sham put us all on edge,” she added.
“Having a camera pointed in my face and me going out and being seen by anti-vaxxers who would be critical and abusive was my main concern.
“Being challenged was intimidating but it was the effect of what could happen afterwards that was my main concern..”
Before yesterday’s hearing began, Ms Hicks spoke to a number of supporters – including Piers Corbyn.
Ms Hicks stated she was not disrespectful to the two women. She said she was acting as an investigative guerilla journalist because she was concerned that the government and the mainstream media were saying hospitals were full and it wasn’t true.
She added that she wanted to show what was happening at her local hospital. She had personal experience of family members being denied hospital treatment due to coronavirus, she said.
Ms Hicks denied a charge of using threatening words or behaviour likely to cause harassment to Ms Williams and Ms Brown on December 28, 2020.
Ms Merry Van Woodenburg, defending, argued that it was not an offence to film in a hospital as it fell under European Court of Human Rights legislation allowing freedom of expression when challenging the narrative offered by governments.
She also argued that the arrest and charging of her client was not proportionate when weighed against her human rights and that there was no evidence she committed an offence while talking to the members of staff.
District Judge Wattam said he needed more time to consider the case law put before him by the defence.
He will announce his verdict on January 19 at Cheltenham Magistrates Court.
Ms Hicks was released on unconditional bail.