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Defendant accused of racial harassment on tube train denies racism, tells court he spoke to councillor because she was ‘attractive’

PUBLISHED: 12:46 02 October 2020 | UPDATED: 12:46 02 October 2020

Jurors were shown an image of Mark Lewis and Gary Forbes taken by Cllr Ogiehor on the night in question last June. Picture: Julia Ogiehor

Jurors were shown an image of Mark Lewis and Gary Forbes taken by Cllr Ogiehor on the night in question last June. Picture: Julia Ogiehor

Archant

One of the men accused of a racially-aggravated public order offence on a Northern Line train denied he is racist, telling Guildford Crown Court he is just a “sociable guy”.

Julia Ogiehor. Picture: Liberal DemocratsJulia Ogiehor. Picture: Liberal Democrats

Gary Forbes, 49, is accused with his friend Mark Lewis, 53, of harassing Muswell Hill councillor Julia Ogiehor on a during a tube journey in June 2019.

He told the court it was not true he decided to speak to her because she was Black. He said he is a “naturally chatty” man.

He accepted he asked Cllr Ogiehor where she was from three times, but claimed he was genuinely interested in chatting about her background.

He said he often initiated conversations with strangers.

“For me, it’s the done thing. I’m northern, that’s what we do,” he said. “It’s what I do. I’m a sociable guy. She was the person I could see in front of me. I was in a really good mood.

“I just thought: ‘Why not have a bit of a chat with somebody new?’”

READ MORE: Men stand trial accused of racially-aggravated harassment of Black councillor on Northern line tube

He said he just hoped to “have an interaction with an attractive girl on the train”.

Forbes told the jury how in his work as a public health data analyst for local councils he had been passionate about understanding health inequalities.

Both Forbes and Lewis, have been giving evidence as the defence makes its case at Guildford Crown Court. They both deny a count of racially-aggravate harassment, while Mr Lewis also denies a racially-aggravated common assault charge.

Forbes said he wrote to Cllr Ogiehor the day after the incident to apologise. His email was read out in court and in it he said he was “genuinely mortified” by the allegations.

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He said he was sorry “that my behaviour even for a moment” had caused her distress.

The police interviews given by both Lewis and Forbes were read out in court. In them both men denied the allegations against them and said they had been surprised by Cllr Ogiehor’s anger towards them.

Mark Lewis denied grabbing Cllr Ogiehor’s hand.

Summing up, Judge Robert Fraser told the jury: “Mark Lewis denied touching Julia Ogiehor at all. He said any touching was accidental and certainly not intentional.”

Earlier this week, Cllr Ogiehor gave evidence. She said she had been asked repeatedly where she was from.

She said: “I did answer the question. I did tell them where I was from, but obviously that didn’t satisfy them because a woman like me can’t possible be from London.”

She told the jury she took her headphones off to hear the men “trying to guess” where in Africa she was from. The defendants deny this.

John Carmichael closed the prosecution case on Friday, saying this was not just a social interaction.

He said: “This is different, isn’t it? Look at the circumstances. Two men. Two large men. Two white men. On a tube opposite a woman, a lone woman, a Black woman. Obviously in her own space because she has her headphones on. So the question ‘where are you from?’ immediately you may think would raise hackles, has the potential of being intrusive at least.

“If it stopped there, if that’d been it, if her irritation had been met with ‘I’m terribly sorry’, there would be no crime. The problem here is the persistence and the insistence. To do this illustrates a deliberate harassment.”

Genevieve Woods, for the defence, closed her case by saying: “This isn’t a crime, it’s what Ms Ogiehor called it in her article, a micro-aggression.”

She said she was contrasting against “criminal acts” and added: “That’s not what this is.”

The jury was expected to retire to consider its verdict on Friday.


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