MP Bob Stewart wins appeal against racial abuse conviction

The politician Bob Stewart has had his conviction for a racially aggravated public order offence quashed.

The MP for Beckenham, who surrendered the Conservative whip last November while he appealed, had his conviction overturned at Southwark crown court on Friday.

Stewart, 74, was convicted in November after telling an activist to “go back to Bahrain” during an argument outside the Foreign Office’s Lancaster House in December 2022.

He had been attending an event hosted by the Bahraini embassy when the protester, Sayed Ahmed 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.” He also told Alwadaei to “get stuffed, Bahrain’s a great place, end of”.

Alwadaei told the court he felt “dehumanised” after Stewart told him to “go back to Bahrain”.

But the judge found that while Stewart’s comments towards Alwadaei had amounted to abuse, they did not cause alarm or distress.

Making the ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Joel Bennathan said: “The fact that even after Mr Stewart’s abusive comments, Mr Alwadaei continued to address him in similar terms and at a similar pitch would scarcely suggest to an observer that he was caused any upset, alarm or distress.”

He acknowledged that Alwadaei felt that the comments were racist, but said: “The feelings of the person against which the abusive comments are directed are not determinative but not irrelevant.”

Earlier, Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the first female lord justice of appeal, gave a character reference for Stewart in court. She said: “He’s very kind, very generous. He has a somewhat flippanty, offhand manner, which sometimes people find rather difficult, but I actually find quite funny. I’ve never heard him be unkind to anyone. I’ve never heard him be racist.”

The court heard that Alwadaei came to the UK from Bahrain as a refugee after he was tortured for attending a protest against the regime.

Alwadaei said he wanted to question Stewart about his support for Bahrain. “Those that would affiliate themselves with a regime that is so corrupt, they should be questioned for their affiliation,” he said.

Stewart is a former British army officer who was stationed in Bahrain in 1969 and has described himself as a “friend” of the Middle Eastern country.

He denied that his comments were racist, and claimed he meant Alwadaei could protest safely if he were to return to Bahrain.

“[I said] go back to Bahrain because I know it to be a very decent place and I thought you would get a decent hearing there,” he told the court.

He said he was “upset” by Alwadaei’s remarks because they made him feel “that I was a corrupt man and that I had accepted money from Bahrain … I had not. I was upset by this.”

He added that when he said “I hate you” he meant “I hate what you are saying”.