Examining the public order offences in the case of R –v– Gill-Webb and the defence of mental impairment

Followers of this blog will be familiar with my previous posts relating to public order offences committed by either sporting personalities or members of the public at sporting events. 2012 saw quite a few of these occur. There was, you may remember, the instance of Mr Trenton Oldfield who swam out into the Thames and disrupted the Oxford-Cambridge boat race. Or perhaps the couple of naked chaps who decided it would be a good idea to streak across The Emirates pitch during the Capital One Cup-tie between Arsenal FC and Coventry City FC. And then there was the serial offender, Mr Aaron Cawley, of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, who ran onto the pitch in a game between Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday and assaulted goalkeeper, Chris Kirkland.

Today’s post though concerns perhaps the strangest and arguably more disturbing than the above. The London Olympic Games were a huge success for the capital and for Great Britain itself, however, seconds before the 100m final a hysterical sports fan sneaked into the Olympic Stadium without a ticket and threw a bottle in the direction of Usain Bolt. Ashley Gill-Webb infiltrated an exclusive seating area and yelled out: ‘Usain, I want you to lose – Usain, you are bad, you are an a***hole,’ after which he allegedly threw an empty bottle of Heineken onto the track and in the direction of the Olympic Champion.

Mr Gill-Webb, of South Milford near Leeds, was then detained by security and arrested by the police. He claimed to be Scottish actor Alan Cumming in his first police interview. His case is currently being heard before Stratford Magistrates’ Court where denies intending to cause the 100m finalists harassment, alarm or distress by using threatening, abusive or disorderly behaviour, thereby causing spectators present at the Olympic Park harassment, alarm or distress. He also denies an alternative charge of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.

Lawyers for Mr Gill-Webb have told the Court that he had been suffering from a “manic episode” and was not capable of forming an intention. Defence psychiatrist Dr Adams said: “I don’t believe that he expected to get into the Olympic Park. I think he thought he would try it. He got into the Olympic Park and was in the Olympic Park for quite a while, and then he thought ‘I have got into the Olympic Park, maybe I can get into the stadium’.”

He has a history of mental problems and there was ‘some impairment in his ability to make a reasonable decision’, consultant forensic psychiatrist for the prosecution, Richard Latham said.

Section 1(2) Mental Health Act 2007 amended section 1(2) Mental Health Act 1983 and defines mental disorder as “any disorder or disability of the mind.” The former categories of mental disorder (mental illness, mental impairment, severe mental impairment and psychopathic disorder) were abolished and the single definition applies throughout the Mental Health Act 1983.

Examples of clinically recognised mental disorders include personality disorders, eating disorders, autistic spectrum disorders, mental illnesses such as depression, bi polar disorder and schizophrenia, and learning disabilities.

“Learning disability” means “a state of arrested or incomplete development of the mind which includes significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning.” (section 2(3) Mental Health Act 2007 inserts a new subsection 1(2A) into the Mental Health Act 1983.)

Dependence on alcohol or drugs does not come within the meaning of “mental disorder” for the purposes of the Mental Health Act 1983 (section 1(3)). However, mental disorders which accompany or are associated with the use of or stopping the use of alcohol or drugs, even if they arise from dependence on those substances, may come within the meaning of “mental disorder” for the purposes of the Mental Health Act 1983.

Section 1(3) Mental Health Act 1983 was also amended to remove the former exclusion preventing a person from being regarded as having a mental disorder only by reason of promiscuity or other immoral conduct or sexual deviancy. This is because promiscuity and “other immoral conduct” are not clinically recognised as mental disorders.

The prosecution has accepted that Mr Gill-Webb was unwell but dismissed the argument about intention. Prosecutor Neil King said: “He had somehow, without a ticket ever being found on him, made his way into very exclusive seats indeed. He was mingling with members of the Dutch Olympic team. Indeed he would be within striking distance of a bronze medallist, Ms Edith Bosch. Whilst there, he hurled abuse towards the athletes in the final, particularly towards the eventual winner Usain Bolt.”

Every person of the age of discretion is, unless the contrary is proved, presumed by law to be sane and to be accountable for his actions: R v Layton (1849) 4 Cox 149. Archbold 17-74. The onus is on the defence to establish insanity at the time of the offence on the balance of probabilities. In all other cases, unless there is statutory authority to the contrary, the onus is on the prosecution to establish mens rea beyond all reasonable doubt, whether generally or when particular issues arise (Woolmington v DPP [1935] A.C.462) Archbold 17-5.

Mr Gill-Webb’s DNA was found on the bottle and he is seen throwing it in CCTV footage. Psychiatrist Richard Latham told the court the father of two’s illness did not stop him doing ‘purposeful things’ such as sneaking in – ‘a pretty staggering feat given the level of security’.


Since his arrest Mr Gill-Webb has lost his job and has been diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. The trial at Stratford Magistrates’ Court has been adjourned for a week and he has been granted bail. This post is not an opinion piece on the defendant’s guilt or innocence, for that is a matter for the court to decide upon hearing all the available evidence.

Update: On 11th January 2013 Mr Ashley Gill-Webb was found guilty of intending to cause the 100m finalists harassment, alarm or distress by using threatening, abusive or disorderly behaviour, contrary to Section 4 of the Public Order Act as well as an alternative charge contrary to Section 5 of the act.

District Judge William Ashworth said: “The two charges relate to a period of two to three minutes before the start of the Olympic 100m men’s final on August 5 2012. Mr Gill-Webb quite deliberately looked over his right shoulder and then round to look over his left shoulder to see if anyone was watching him and then stepped for concealment behind other spectators. Satisfied that he was not under observation, he threw the bottle very close to the competitors who were listening for the starting gun. The video, in my view, quite clearly shows Mr Gill-Webb checking to see if he is under observation before taking the risk of throwing the bottle. I am sure that he was at that point weighing up the chances of being caught before throwing the bottle in an effort to disrupt the start of the race and put off Usain Bolt. I am sure, therefore, that he was at that point acting rationally and wrongly.”

Following the verdict David Robinson, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS London, said: “Gill-Webb’s decision to throw a bottle on to the track at the men’s 100m final was reckless and irresponsible. This incident came close to disrupting the most-watched event of the 2012 Olympic Games, which was broadcast to millions of people across the world and for which many athletes had trained for years”.

District Judge Ashworth said he would limit the maximum sentence to a community-based penalty and granted Gill-Web conditional bail until the sentencing.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the writer and this article does not constitute legal advice. Any person who has been or has yet to be charged with a criminal offence shall remain innocent until proven guilty.