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Man charged by British police after U.K. anti-lockdown protesters chase BBC editor

People protest outside the Palace of Westminster in London on Monday. (Alberto Pezzali/AP)

LONDON — British police confirmed Wednesday that a 57-year-old man seen in a video haranguing and chasing a BBC producer together with a mob of anti-lockdown protesters has been charged.

In the footage, widely shared on Twitter, anti-shutdown protesters outside Downing Street chase and verbally abuse journalist Nick Watt in the run-up to Monday’s announcement that England’s final stage of coronavirus restriction rollbacks would be delayed.

The footage drew condemnation from rights groups and government officials Tuesday, including the prime minister himself.

“Disgraceful to see the hounding of Nick Watt doing his job,” Johnson tweeted.

Police identified the man as Martin Hockridge and said that he was charged with “using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards another person with the intention to cause them harassment, alarm or distress” and that he would appear in court later this month.

The video showed protesters surrounding Watt, a political editor, yelling “traitor” and “shame on you” into his face as he runs toward police seeking safety. Some demonstrators accused the BBC of “lying” about the legality of shutdown measures.

The incident highlighted the distrust and divisions that remain over Britain’s rules and restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This behavior is completely unacceptable. All journalists should be able to carry out their work without intimidation or impediment,” a BBC spokesman said in response to the video.

Human rights campaigner Rebecca Vincent referred to the scene as “appalling” and called on Britain to “do better.”

“This isn’t protest; it’s harassment & possibly assault (given Covid risk). Journalists must be able to do their jobs safely,” she tweeted.

Anti-shutdown protesters marching through the city ahead of Johnson’s briefing Monday held signs that read “Freedom is not negotiable” and “Open the UK for business now,” while the opposition Labour Party blamed “incompetence” and “slow decision-making” from the conservative government for the delay.

Although the government acknowledged that people would probably be frustrated by the decision, Johnson expressed hope that pushing the deadline to ease all restrictions back by an additional four weeks would allow millions more people to receive their second dose of vaccine before people attempt to resume life as normal.

Critics say Johnson should have added India, where the delta variant was first identified, to the official red travel list earlier and implemented more stringent border-control measures. India was not added to the red list until April 23.

“Our borders were as secure as a sieve,” Labour lawmaker Jonathan Ashworth said Monday, noting that at least 20,000 people had entered the country from India during that time. “The prime minister’s complacency allowed this variant to reach our shores.”

Others expressed concern that the new July date for the lifting of restrictions — widely nicknamed Freedom Day — would again be pushed back.

Speaking to “BBC Breakfast” on Tuesday, Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister, denied that Johnson would ever “put the health of the country at risk” and said that only a “bizarre and unprecedented” event could prevent the new date of July 19 from changing.

More than 128,000 people in Britain have died of covid-19.

This article has been updated.

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