PC Luke Wilson, 28, was on a boozy night out with fellow members of the Lewisham emergency response unit when he squared to Johnny White at the Be At One cocktail bar.
Bar staff believed the group of 20-25 off-duty police officers were flouting the Covid ‘Rule of Six’, but their complaints were met with calls to “lighten up”, Westminster magistrates court heard.
Wilson, a Met officer since 2015 who had previously worked in security at the Houses of Parliament, angrily headbutted Mr White when he was admonished for moving around the venue between different tables.
On Tuesday, District Judge Briony Clarke imposed a ten-week prison sentence, suspended for a year, describing the assault as a “moment of madness”.
“What happened on this night was completely unacceptable, and really defies explanation”, she said.
“This was a serious offence. It’s a very short clip of CCTV and a single strike, but that strike is a headbutt.
“Anyone viewing the footage would have been shocked by that behaviour.”
The attack happened at the Be At One bar in King William Street, Monument, on July 2 last year, when Wilson and colleagues arrived for a staff night-out at a time when Covid regulations were still in force.
Mr White said he allowed the group to enter, knowing they were police officers and believed they would stick to the rule of sitting a maximum of six per table.
However, he said the police officers – including some who had flashed their warrant card on entry – began to flout the rules and were “confrontational” when challenged.
As the manager and designated premises supervisor, he would be responsible for sticking to strict licensing conditions and wanted to avoid being shut down, especially after staff had been furloughed and made redundant in the pandemic.
“As much as I want people to have a good time and socialise, we had to comply with the regulations”, he said.
“When we found out we had a large amount of police officers, we had joked that this should be pretty easy, we won’t have to deal with chasing people around and the abuse we receive from people.
“It ended up being the worst day of my hospitality career. I was shocked and have lost trust, especially in the Metropolitan Police.”
He said Wilson was spotted moving between tables, and at one kissed a colleague on the cheek, and he went to intervene to encourage the group to adhere to the Covid rules.
“As the night progressed, they started acting like the normal general public, switching places, switching seats to be with friends”, he said. “I was shocked by the behaviour – we spent quite a lot of the night running around the venue, asking people to return to their seats.”
The court heard the group, which included an acting inspector and at least four sergeants, told the annoyed bar staff: “Lighten up, what’s wrong with you, we are trying to have a good time.”
Matters came to a head when a bottle of Prosecco was ordered with eight glasses, and Mr White asked some police officers to move to comply with the ‘Rule of Six’.
Officers disputed they were breaking the rules, and Mr White was then confronted by Wilson, with CCTV capturing the moment of the headbutt.
“He became really confrontational”, said the bar manager. “He squared up to me, literally head to head contact. I remained calm – I have had to deal with that kind of behaviour before.
“My colleague radioed security to make them aware, and then it was a strike on my head with his head.”
Two police sergeants, Sharan Bassi and Ryan Snadden, gave evidence for Wilson during his trial, accusing bar staff of being “condescending” and “rude” and disputing that the Covid rules had been broken.
When Sergeant Snadden was shown CCTV footage with more than six people sitting together in a booth, he conceded: “We were fully aware of the rules at the time, and had every intention to stick to them.”
At the conclusion of the trial, Judge Clarke was critical of the police group for breaking the rules and for flashing warrant cards.
She told Wilson on Tuesday: “It was made clear at the trial you were breaking the Covid regulations in that bar which is what led to this whole sorry tale to begin with.”
The court heard Wilson set his sights on policing from a young age, having seen a lot of crime while growing up on an estate in Greenwich.
He joined the Houses of Parliament security team aged 19, has a BTEC in public service, and was a special constable before signing up fulltime to the Met Police.
He was ordered to carry out 80 hours of community service, pay £200 in compensation to Mr White, as well as £903 in court costs and fees.
Wilson, from Gravesend in Kent, denied but was convicted of assault by beating.
He is currently on restricted duties and now faces a police disciplinary hearing, while a complaint about police behaviour at the bar has been lodged with the Independent Office for Police Conduct.