A BBC Radio DJ branded the ‘Jimmy Savile of trolling’ has been found guilty of stalking Jeremy Vine and other stars by unleashing a ‘tsunami of hate’ over the course of nine years.
A court heard he also left BBC Radio Northampton DJ Bernie Keith feeling suicidal after targeting him as part of his campaign of abuse.
The 42-year-old had denied stalking Vine and seven other alleged victims, and claimed he was the subject of a ‘witch hunt’.
But a jury at Nottingham Crown Court has today found him guilty of alternative charges of ‘simple stalking’ in relation to Vine and blogger Philip Dehany, and of stalking Keith and videographer Ben Hewis.
He was cleared on four other charges of stalking other BBC employees and will be sentenced at a later date.
Belfield, of Mapperley, Nottingham, showed no emotion and wrote on a piece of paper as the verdicts were delivered.
Veteran broadcaster Vine had sobbed in court as he described being targeted by the ‘Jimmy Savile of trolling’ while giving evidence against a YouTube host accused of stalking him.
The broadcaster said being harassed by ‘dangerous’ Alex Belfield, who has over 372,000 subscribers on the video-sharing platform, was ‘like being caught with a fish hook in my face and my flesh was being torn’.
Jeremy Vine (left) gave evidence in the trial of former BBC Radio Leeds presenter Alex Belfield (right). They are both pictured outside court
Prosecutors claimed Belfield, 42, subjected Vine, 57, to a ‘relentless’ online campaign that included a ‘wave of personal and unpleasant attacks’ on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook over an 11-month period.
‘It left me numb with fear… this was absolutely Olympic level stalking,’ Vine said.
Belfield is also said to have encouraged his supporters to make hoax calls to Vine’s Channel 5 TV and BBC Radio 2 shows, accused Vine of appointing his ’10-year-old daughter’ as a director of one of his companies in a bid to dodge paying tax, and tried to obtain private phone numbers for his family members.
Vine also told Nottingham Crown Court that he had not been aware of Belfield until the 42-year-old said from a broadcasting studio that he liked to watch a female weather presenter on his leather sofa, ‘naked and with a box of tissues handy’.
The BBC presenter added that he received an ‘avalanche of hatred’ from other internet users thanks to Belfield’s videos and tweets, and had to put cameras in his home because he feared one of the YouTuber’s ‘disciples’ may launch a knife or acid attack on him or his family.
Belfield, pictured here arriving at Nottingham Crown Court yesterday, was found guilty of two counts of simple stalking and two counts of stalking to cause alarm and distress
The charges faced by the former BBC DJ
Alex Belfield had been charged with stalking eight other broadcasters and media figures.
After a trial at Nottingham Crown Court, a jury spent more than 14 hours deliberating before returning with the verdicts.
The jury could either find him not guilty, guilty, or convict him of the lesser offence of ‘simple stalking’, which means stalking without causing alarm or distress.
He was accused of stalking to cause alarm and distress to the following people:
Count 1: The BBC’s former head of north Rozina Breen – not guilty
Count 2: Former BBC Radio Leeds presenter Liz Green – not guilty
Count 3: Former managing editor of BBC Radio Leeds Helen Thomas – not guilty
Count 4: Former BBC Radio Leeds presenter Stephanie Hirst – not guilty
Count 5: BBC Radio Northampton DJ Bernie Keith – guilty
Count 6: Videographer Ben Hirst – guilty
Count 7: Theatre blogger Philip Dehany – not guilty, but guilty of simply stalking
Count 8: BBC broadcaster Jeremy Vine – not guilty, but guilty of simple stalking
Vine told the court: ‘We are dealing with serious criminality here. This is not a regular troll. This is the Jimmy Savile of trolling. Every reference to him makes my flesh creep. All he does is lie.’
The court heard Vine even had to put up a picture of Belfield in his hallway and warn his 13-year-old daughter to be on her guard while on the street – causing her to burst in tears.
Vine, wearing a navy blue suit and tie, frequently glared at Belfield from the witness box as he described him as a ‘nasty, nasty man’ whose actions were, he said, ‘crazy and wicked’.
He told how he’d never heard of Belfield, himself a former BBC radio host, until April 2020 when an acquaintance sent him a link to a video on YouTube that featured a ‘rant’ about him – with Belfield concluding: ‘This guy really p***** me off.’
Vine said that in hindsight, he ‘wished he hadn’t’ viewed it, adding: ‘Watching this man is like swimming in sewage.’
He added that in one incident, which he understands may have got Belfield fired, a young weather forecaster was the subject of ‘disgusting’ remarks.
Vine told the court: ‘You [Belfield] were on the air and a young weather forecaster was sat down in Mr Belfield’s studio. I listened to it again a couple of days ago to make sure my recollection was correct.
‘You said: “I like to watch you on my leather sofa at home.” You said: “I’m usually naked” and “I like to have a box of tissues handy.” I thought it was disgusting.
‘I’m saying it contributed to you being fired as it rightly should have. You’ve said your name in court and you’ve got that right. Everything that brings me here is a lie.
‘I haven’t heard you say anything truthful in court today. I didn’t want to be cross examined by you as you’ve caused so much turmoil in your life.
‘You are the Jimmy Savile of trolling. You operate by proxy, you drive others to send messages. Not separated by weeks or months, they were separated by days, sometimes hours. You were broadcasting on consecutive days.
‘I am scared of you.’
Addressing Belfield, he added: ‘I knew nothing about your BBC career until you made lude comments about a weather forecaster. I think because journalism holds truth, you’re not (a journalist).
‘Your desire to do me serious harm, that was clear from all of your broadcasts, frightened me.
‘I refitted the camera system on my house. Having bought two, I gave two to my neighbour.’
Jurors have been told a ‘constant bombardment’ of videos, tweets and messages then followed, with Belfield becoming increasingly abusive.
Vine told the hearing: ‘I can see he is really starting to personally dislike me, and I do not know why because I have never had anything to do with this man.
‘This starts to get more worrying for me because clearly it is Alex versus Jeremy and he has an agenda, and I am wondering if I am starting to have a problem here.’
He added that in one period, Belfield had made 124 references to him in his online content in just 14 days – and started falsely claiming that Vine had ‘stolen’ £1,000 of licence fee payers’ money to put towards a memorial for radio executive John Myers, who died at the age of 60.
Vine broke down as he told jurors how that accusation, which he described as a ‘complete lie’, had led to one troll targeting an online tribute he posted to his father, who died of Parkinson’s disease in 2018.
He said: ‘His comment was, ‘what would your father have said if he knew his son was a thieving toe rag? I couldn’t handle it. I went to the police and said I couldn’t handle it any more.’
The BBC star added that he has had ‘scores of horrible messages on Twitter. It’s incredibly powerful thing to say “this man took your money for his friends funeral and a p***up”. None of that is true.’
Turning to the jury, Mr Vine added: ‘The threat that I felt Belfield posed to me was a scale dozen times higher. He doesn’t know and I don’t know if his 500,000 [YouTube] followers might find me.’
Belfield taking a selfie outside Nottingham Crown Court before an earlier court appearance
Vine added that Belfield, of Mapperley, Nottingham, escalated the harassment from ‘week to week’ to ‘day to day’, claiming: ‘He operates through persistence and repetition.
‘I couldn’t sleep. You are thinking about this 24/7.’
The court was played a series of Belfield’s videos about Vine, in which he repeatedly referred to the missing £1,000 and described him a ‘c***’, a ‘sanctimonious p****’, and said he had ‘blood on his hands’ over the Covid-19 pandemic.
Shaking his head during the footage at times, Vine said: ‘I have two daughters, they are 18 and 15 now. My daughter Anna was 13 at the time this happened.
‘I had to sit her and her sister down and tell them about the situation.
‘I said this man hates me, he has accused me of stealing, he has driven so much hatred towards me so we are going to have to be careful.
‘We had a picture of him in our hallway. We thought it was possible that one of his half a million followers could have a knife or acid or something.
‘Imagine telling a 13-year-old that? She was in tears, I saw her just shrink. It was a year before she had the confidence to leave the house again.
‘She is his victim as well and he does not even know her name.’
‘There’s a good deal of stalking in broadcasting, but none of my friends in the industry has seen anything like this.
‘This is Olympic-level stalking.’
Describing the impact Belfield’s alleged campaign had on him, Vine said it left him ‘shredded’.
A jury at Nottingham Crown Court found Belfield guilty of stalking four people, but cleared him of four other stalking charges
He added: ‘It launched incredible hate against me. I had 5,000 to 10,000 hateful personal tweets as a direct result of Belfield.
‘He kept on and on. I was anxious. I couldn’t eat or sleep for a time.
‘I felt wounded, and felt there was absolutely no escape.
‘I had a physical stalker who followed me. That was a picnic compared to this guy. His videos are still online. In 1,000 years my great, great grandchildren will see stories about how I stole £1,000, and there is nothing I can do about it.’
Vine said the abuse only ended when the police started investigating Belfield, and his bail conditions meant he could no longer produce videos about him.
He added: ‘That has given me and the others a year where we just remembered what it was like ‘BB’ – Before Belfield.’
After more than 14 hours of deliberations, the jury cleared Belfield of half of the eight charges against him.
The jury found him not guilty of stalking the BBC’s former head of North, Rozina Breen; former BBC Radio Leeds presenters Liz Green and Stephanie Hirst, and former BBC worker Helen Thomas.
It found him guilty of stalking to cause alarm or distress against BBC Radio Northampton presenter Bernie Keith and videographer Ben Hewis.
It convicted him of alternative charges of ‘simple stalking’ in relation to Jeremy Vine and theatre blogger Philip Dehany, meaning stalking without alarm or distress.
He is set to be sentenced at the same court on September 16.