A Conservative politician accused of demonstrating racial hostility by telling an activist “go back to Bahrain” has said his “honour was at stake” during a row between them.
Bob Stewart, MP for Beckenham in south-east London, also told Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei “you’re taking money off my country, go away!” in an exchange outside the Foreign Office’s Lancaster House in Westminster on December 14 last year.
The 74-year-old had been attending an event hosted by the Bahraini Embassy when protester Mr Alwadaei shouted “Bob Stewart, for how much did you sell yourself to the Bahraini regime?”
Mr Stewart replied: “Go away, I hate you. You make a lot of fuss. Go back to Bahrain.”
In footage played during a trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday, he also said: “Now shut up, you stupid man.”
Stewart, asked for his thoughts on the allegations of racial hostility, 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 Mr 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 Mr Alwadaei.
Asked if he accused Mr 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” Mr 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 Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) activist Mr Alwadaei, who has said he is living in exile after being tortured in the Gulf state.
Speaking about the row, Mr 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.”
During his evidence, Mr Alwadaei said he was exercising his right to protest by questioning Stewart and had not intended to insult the MP.
He accused Stewart of being financed by Bahrain and of acting as a “well-known defender” of the regime, the court heard.
The protester also claimed that during a trip to the country, Stewart had chanted “god save the king of Bahrain”.
Mr Alwadaei went on to say if he did return to Bahrain, he would “undoubtedly be killed and tortured”.
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.
Mr Jarvis told the court Stewart later said he “regretted” the comments and that he should have ignored the protester.
Paul Cavin KC, defending, said: “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.
Mr 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.”
Chief Magistrate Paul Goldspring said if Stewart is found guilty his offences would be “non-custodial”.
Stewart kept the Tory whip after being charged with a racially aggravated public order offence, which he denies.
He also pleaded not guilty to using threatening or abusive words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
The one-day trial continues.