A champion bodybuilder who opened his gym during lockdown has fought back tears and claimed he was the victim as his trial for breaking Covid rules started.
Eddy Ellwood, 58, told Teesside Magistrates’ Court yesterday he had become an activist against the restriction after a member of his fitness club died by suicide.
The former Mr Universe said in court he had started a support group at Sunderland’s Herrington Country Park – but they started to meet at his facility.
He said he kept it open as a ‘peaceful protest’ against the Covid rules and would 100 per cent do it again, adding: ‘I am the victim of a crime here.’
Ellwood was appearing on the first of his two-day trial after denying alleged breaches of Covid legislation on February 2 and February 7 last year.
He has also denied breaching a prohibition notice issued by Hartlepool Council on each of the two days.
Eddy Ellwood (pictured on the way to court), 58, told Teesside Magistrates’ Court he had become an activist against the restriction after a member of his fitness club died by suicide
The former Mr Universe (pictured) said in court he had started a support group at Sunderland’s Herrington Country Park – but they started to meet at his facility
The strongman, who owns Xtreme Fitness gym in the town, told the court: ‘People were ringing me with suicidal intentions and I wasn’t going to let that happen again.
‘These people were isolated and on their own. The human interaction was all that they needed.
‘Gyms are not about fitness, they are about supporting each other. They are mental health hospitals.
‘You have to understand the importance of physical exercise to someone who has done it all their lives, it’s part of their medication. They need it.’
Ellwood admitted members were allowed to use the equipment but said they were mainly allowed in as part of a peaceful protest against Covid rules.
He claimed the gym, which was open on reduced hours, was supporting people suffering mental health problems.
He said there were posters and a barrier up saying it was for peaceful protesters and people were socially distancing.
He also told the court the average age of those there was 33.4, saying it meant they were not in an age group at risk from the virus.
The strongman, who owns Xtreme Fitness (pictured) in the town, told the court: ‘People were ringing me with suicidal intentions and I wasn’t going to let that happen again
Ellwood continued: ‘I was supporting individuals for mental health and it was a protest against the coronavirus act.
‘I had people coming up and saying ”you have no idea how much this has meant to us” for what I did. I have emails saying ”you saved my life”.’
He said he would 100 per cent do it again, saying: ‘If this happened again I would do whatever it took to save another man’s life.’
He added: ‘I haven’t caused any man or woman any suffering. I am the victim of a crime here.’
He claimed the gym (pictured, a poster of him in the facility), which was open on reduced hours, was supporting people suffering mental health problems
Hartlepool Council brought the charges against Ellwood and claim he broke the rules by allowing people on the site when they were not working.
But he hit back at the claims, telling the court everyone has a right to peaceful protest.
Defence witness Samantha Egan said she travelled from her home in Whiteleas, South Shields, to the Hartlepool gym.
She said she wanted to feel supported and to be able to share stories and feelings with other people, adding the premise was not operating as a gym.
She said: ‘I just felt relieved that I wasn’t the only person going through what I was experiencing. Just being with other people, being able to talk to them.’
Fellow witness Stephen Worthy, from Hartlepool, said he had lost two friends to suicide and his own mental health was suffering.
He said it motivated him to go to the gym, adding: ‘It was the fact that you felt you were part of something again.’
The trial continues.