A man who attacked Guardian columnist Owen Jones outside a London pub late at night in August was accused in court of being motivated by hostility to his leftwing political views or the fact that his victim is gay.

James Healy, from Portsmouth, is one of three men who has already pleaded guilty to assaulting Jones in an incident that took place at around 2am on 17 August last year outside the Lexington public house in King’s Cross, north London.

But a trial in front of a judge began on Thursday at Snaresbrook crown court to determine whether the incident was motivated by homophobia or antipathy to Jones’s leftwing politics. If found guilty on either count, Healy faces a higher sentence.

Prosecutor Philip McGhee said: “It is said, based on the evidence, that the assault was motivated by hostility borne by the defendant towards the victim either due to the victim’s sexual orientation or political views, or both.

“The defendant asserts the only motivation is something that happened between him and the victim inside the public house outside which the assault took place.”

An attack motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation is a statutory aggravating factor. But the judge, Recorder Anne Studd QC, can also find that hostility to Jones’s political views is an aggravating factor, although it is not defined as such in law.

The court heard that unspecified “memorabilia and insignia” were found in a search of Healy’s home address in late August. But his counsel, Matthew Radstone, said that was not relevant to the attack, and that it was “consistent with Mr Healy being a Chelsea football supporter”.

Studd, presiding, said it would be for her to adjudicate. “My job is to look at motivation,” she told the court, adding that she would examine CCTV, what was said and done at the time, “whether there is any relevance in the memorabilia found at his home address” and whether Jones was known to the defendant.

Jones, 35, said he had been out celebrating his birthday and was attacked outside the pub at about 2am on 17 August while he was saying goodbye to friends.

Healy is one of three men who have admitted being involved in the incident. He and Liam Tracey, 34, from Camden, London and Charlie Ambrose, 29, from Brighton, all pleaded guilty to affray last month. Healy also admitted a further charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Sentencing for all three is to due take place in February at the earliest.

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