Tory MP Bob Stewart guilty of racial abuse after telling activist to 'go back to Bahrain'

3 November 2023, 16:31 | Updated: 3 November 2023, 18:34

Bob Stewart
Bob Stewart. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Tory MP Bob Stewart has been found guilty of racial abuse after telling an activist to 'go back to Bahrain'.

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Stewart, who represents Beckenham in south-east London, confronted a man outside the Foreign Office in December last year.

The 74-year-old told Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei he was "taking money off my country".

He had been attending an event hosted by the Bahraini Embassy when protester Alwadaei shouted "Bob Stewart, for how much did you sell yourself to the Bahraini regime?"

During a heated exchange, Stewart replied: "Go away, I hate you. You make a lot of fuss. Go back to Bahrain."

In footage played to the court, he also said: "Now shut up you stupid man."

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Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring found Stewart guilty of a racially aggravated public order offence.

After giving his verdict at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Friday, he fined the MP £600, with additional legal costs bringing the total to £1,435.

Mr Goldspring, despite mentioning Stewart's "immense positive character", remarked: "I accept he is not racist per se, but that is not the case against him.

"Good men can do bad things."

Conservative MP Bob Stewart leaves Westminster Magistrates' Court in central London
Conservative MP Bob Stewart leaves Westminster Magistrates' Court in central London. Picture: Alamy

Stewart, asked for his thoughts on the allegations of racial hostility, had earlier said: "That's absurd, it's totally unfair, my life has been, I don't want to say destroyed, but I am deeply hurt at having to appear in a court like this."

The MP declared: "I am not a racist."

He continued: "He was saying that I was corrupt and that I had taken money.

"My honour was at stake in front of a large number of ambassadors.

"It upset me and I thought it was extremely offensive."

Stewart told the court he had "no idea" who Alwadaei was and said he used the word "hate" because of what the protester was saying.

The MP went on: "'Go back to Bahrain' meant 'Why don't you go back to Bahrain and make your point there?'"

He told of being "goaded" and "embarrassed" by Alwadaei.

Asked if he accused Alwadaei of taking money from the UK, the MP went on: "I made the assumption he too was living in this country and was benefiting from living in this country.

"I certainly didn't mean he was a freeloader."

The MP used the phrase "my country" because he "assumed" Alwadaei was from Bahrain but accepted the words "this country" would "perhaps have been better", the court heard.

Stewart, a former British Army officer who was stationed in Bahrain in 1969, said he is a "friend" of the Middle Eastern country.

He went on: "I've spent my whole life in a way defending minorities and people of different colours."

The Metropolitan Police launched an investigation after a complaint was made by Alwadaei, who said he is living in exile after being tortured in the Gulf state.

Speaking about the row, Alwadaei said: "I feel that I was dehumanised, like I was someone who is not welcomed in the UK."

He added: "Because of my skin colour, because of where I came from, he feels I am taking money from his country."

Activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei
Activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei. Picture: Alamy

Paul Jarvis, prosecuting, said: "Mr Alwadaei felt upset and humiliated by what had taken place."

He added: "He (Stewart) demonstrated racial hostility towards Mr Alwadaei by way of his comments."

However, the prosecutor said Stewart "was not motivated by racial hostility", merely demonstrating it.

Paul Cavin KC, defending, argued: "There is no right to confront an MP in public and expect answers in a measured House of Commons way."

He added: "Any hostility was based on the complainant's behaviour, conduct and speech towards the defendant."

Parliamentary records show Stewart registered flights, accommodation and meals worth £5,349 during a four-day trip to Bahrain last November paid for by its ministry of foreign affairs.

A separate entry covered by the Bahraini government shows another trip, worth £1,245.56, to visit an air show and meet its foreign minister.

Alwadaei alleged the country is "corrupt" and a "human rights violator".

Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, 90, giving character evidence, said "kind" and "thoughtful" Stewart has a "flippant" manner, adding: "He is given to saying things that are unwise but his heart is absolutely in the right place."

Stewart kept the Tory whip after being charged and denying the offence.