The independent London newspaper

Social media star convicted of common assault over Finchley Road prank

Victim of Facebook video left 'very shaken' and gives evidence from behind screen

17 November, 2017 — By Emily Finch

A WOMAN was left “very shaken” after a social media star ambushed her in the street and featured her in a prank video which went viral on the internet.

Edward Forfield-Smith, who goes by Ed J C Smith, was convicted of common assault after suddenly putting his arm around her in Finchley Road while filming. The 37-year-old, who has 200,000 “likes” on his Facebook page, had denied the charge at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court.

Footage of the incident outside the HSBC bank was uploaded to his social media page in April with the title “Video prank social awkwardness”. The victim, who gave evidence to the court from behind a curtain, described how she had encountered Mr Forfield-Smith as she walked home from a beauty salon appointment.

The 23-year-old’s husband told the court that she had returned “looking very shaken”, adding: “She used the word ‘creep’ [to describe Mr Smith], he held her and she screamed and ran away. She shouted, ‘I’m married’ and ran away.”

He said his wife had told him she had been grabbed around her waist and on her arm. “She was on the verge of crying, she was trembling quite a lot,” he told the court. “After the incident she was very scared of going out on Finchley Road, which is where she goes to take the tube, and she asks me to escort her to Waitrose. She doesn’t like it when people are taking pictures as she worries she may be targeted.”

The clip which featured the victim lasted around three seconds, while the whole video lasted around three minutes and also showed Mr Forfield-Smith helping an elderly man cross the road by holding his hand.

Mr Forfield-Smith, who describes himself as an entrepreneur and a PhD researcher writing a book on social media, told the court the videos on his Facebook page promote “empowerment”.

He said a few videos had been watched by more than five million people. “I went out [on April 9] with a clear intention to interact with the public,” he said. “I stand next to people, I am very concious and aware. I am an intelligent person.”

He denied touching the victim, however. “I perceived it as a funny interaction and at the time it was funny. She was smiling at the time,” he said.

Judge Julia Newton said she took Mr Forfield-Smith’s “good character” into consideration but agreed with the victim that Mr Forfield-Smith “had put his arm around her shoulder and continued to film with a phone”. She said the victim had been left “distressed” by the incident, especially as it was uploaded online.

Mr Forfield-Smith was sentenced to a 12-month community order with 55 hours of unpaid work. He was ordered to pay £620 in costs and £85 in victim surcharge. His social media channels include self-help advice and other pranks featuring a stunt in which he pretends to steal dogs from Primrose Hill with the help of an accomplice. Shocked park users chase after him, thinking he is a dog-napper.

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