Former BBC local radio DJ Alex Belfield who was branded the ‘Jimmy Savile of trolling’ has been jailed for five years after being convicted of four stalking charges against broadcasters including Jeremy Vine.
Belfield, 42, was found guilty after trial last month of waging a relentless stalking campaign against broadcasters, with TV’s Jeremy Vine subjected to an ‘avalanche of hatred’.
Vine labelled him ‘the Jimmy Savile of trolling’ during a trial which heard he repeatedly posted or sent abusive messages, videos and emails.
Jurors accepted Belfield caused serious alarm or distress to two victims and was found guilty of ‘simple’ stalking in relation to Channel 5 and BBC Radio 2 presenter Mr Vine and theatre blogger Philip Dehany.
BBC Radio Northampton presenter Bernie Keith was left feeling suicidal by a ‘tsunami of hate’, the trial heard.
Jeremy Vine also gave evidence against Belfield, telling jurors: ‘This is not a regular troll here. This is the Jimmy Savile of trolling.’
Alex Belfield, 42, was found guilty after trial last month of waging a relentless stalking campaign against broadcasters
Jeremy Vine (left) gave evidence in the trial of former BBC Radio Leeds presenter Alex Belfield (right). They are both pictured outside court on July 13
Describing watching Belfield’s video output as like swimming in sewage, Mr Vine said of the defendant’s conduct: ‘It felt like I had a fish hook in my face and my flesh was being torn, and the only way to avoid further pain was to stay completely still.’
In dramatic witness evidence, Vine sobbed as he told jurors how Belfield’s videos and tweets about him launched an ‘avalanche of hatred’ from other internet users and meant he had to install security cameras in his home because he feared one of the 42-year-old’s ‘disciples’ may launch a knife or acid attack on him or his family.
Nottingham Crown Court heard Vine, who claimed Belfield made 124 references to him in his online content in one 14-day period, was even forced to put up a picture of Belfield in the hallway and warn his teenage daughter to be on her guard while on the street – causing her to burst into tears.
Belfield was found guilty of stalking to cause alarm and distress to BBC Radio Northampton presenter Bernie Keith (pictured)
Jurors convicted Belfield of four charges committed between 2012 and 2021.
Belfield has been given a total of five years and 26 weeks in prison, of which he will serve half, on all four charges he was convicted of.
Mr Justice Saini, sentencing, told Belfield, who was sat taking notes in the court dock: ‘Your offences are so serious, only a custodial sentence can be justified.’
John McGuinness QC, prosecuting, had told jurors that Belfield’s offending was ‘more akin to internet trolling’ than the ‘more recognisable form of stalking – following the victim when they are moving around in the street, or turning up at their house or place of work to confront them.’
He said the case involved Belfield either repeatedly directly contacting his victims via email, tweets or Facebook messages, or making statements about them in emails, on Twitter, and in videos he uploaded to the internet.
But during his evidence, Vine revealed he had previously had a ‘physical’ stalker – and claimed that was a ‘picnic’ compared to Belfield’s online harassment, which took place over an 11-month period between 2020 and last year.
He described how Belfield encouraged supporters to make hoax calls to his Channel 5 TV and BBC Radio 2 shows.
Jurors convicted Belfield (pictured) of four charges committed between 2012 and 2021
Belfield pictured taking a selfie outside Nottingham Crown Court before an earlier court appearance
Vine said he wasn’t aware of Belfield’s existence 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.’
A ‘constant bombardment’ of videos, tweets and messages then followed.
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 Belfield started falsely claiming that Vine had ‘stolen’ £1,000 of licence fee payers’ money to put towards a memorial service 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.
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.’
Mr Justice Saini said a pre-sentence report showed while Belfield ‘fully acknowledges the distress to victims’ it also ‘highlights you still appear to focus on the impact on you and feel in certain respects you’ve been unfairly treated’.
The judge told Belfield that while not ‘traditional stalking’, ‘your methods were just as effective a way of intimidating victims and in many ways much harder to deal with.’
He added there was ‘no escape’ for Belfield’s victims, until bail conditions were imposed ahead of his trial and agreed with Mr Vine’s characterisation the ex-DJ had ‘weaponised the internet’ against those he targeted.
‘As you quoted, your aim was to haunt your victims; they believed you would never go away,’ the judge said.
Mr Justice Saini said that although Belfield had a right to free speech, he ‘wasn’t entitled to ruin the personal lives’ of those he targeted – who had ‘no escape’ until police bail conditions stopped the harassment following his arrest.
The judge also imposed restraining orders preventing Belfield, who showed no reaction as he was sentenced, from contacting his victims until further notice, and told him to pay £10,000 costs.