James O'Brien reacts to harassment of Chris Whitty, as police investigate

29 June 2021, 10:50 | Updated: 29 June 2021, 11:07

James O'Brien responds to Whitty's harassment

By Fiona Jones

James O'Brien reacts to the harassment of Professor Chris Whitty, dissecting the possible reasons it happened.

Boris Johnson said he is "shocked" at the "despicable harassment" of Professor Chris Whitty after police announced they were investigating a video showing him being grabbed by two men.

The 20 second clip shows two grinning men follow England's Chief Medical Officer (CMO) as they shout "oi oi" and "one photo please".

They continue as Prof Whitty tries to walk away during the incident at St James's Park in London, while a voice can also be heard saying "leave the gentleman alone".

A personal tragedy befell Profesor Whitty as a teenager; his father Kenneth Whitty was murdered by terrorists on the streets of Greece. With this in mind, some commentators have indicated that this could have made the incident significantly more traumatic.

James reflected on whether this incident was similar to the harassment of Nick Watt, a journalist who was abused and chased by a mob of anti-lockdown protestors outside Downing Street earlier this month.

CMO Chris Whitty harassed by two men in the street

James said, "I don't think the two events are identical, because I don't think the yobs who harassed Whitty were doing so for political or ideological or opinion-based reasons.

"There's a voice at the end which says leave the gentleman alone, and it has been suggested that it might have been a police officer, it has also been reported that it's believed to be a passerby."

James continued that he has had some experience of people harassing him in the street while "sticking a phone in his face", but concluded that that is not what happened to Chris Whitty.

This, intimated, may be closer to an example of people "boisterously trying to get a selfie or give you a bit of a bearhug, which is fine if you're in a pub garden and the football's on, but it's not fine if you're in your suit and you're walking through St James's Park on the way back from a tough shift at work."

James reflected that he did not think this incident is a consequence of columnists calling him "Doctor Doom": "I don't think their ludicrous misinformation and attention-seeking with regard to so called lockdown skepticism, or anti-vaccine, or even anti-lockdown, I don't think that is part of this picture."

"It looked to me like two or three...very intoxicated individuals who saw someone off the telly, one of the most recognisable faces in Britain at the moment...they got very very excited."

The Metropolitan Police confirmed they are investigating the incident, tweeting: "We are aware of a video being shared online showing an incident in St James's Park. Officers spoke to all those involved at the time and their details were taken."We are in contact with the victim and the circumstances continue to be investigated."

New health secretary Sajid Javid said: "I've seen the video of the CMO being harassed."It's appalling and totally unacceptable. The CMO works tirelessly on behalf of the country.

"We will not tolerate this sort of behaviour towards our public servants. The men behaving in this disgraceful way should be ashamed."

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi tweeted: "This is disgusting and these thugs must be found and charged. Zero tolerance for harassing a public servant."

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