A university lecturer could be sent to prison for calling a city MP a “coward”.

Alex Cline faces a two-day trial after a court heard Hove MP Mike Weatherley complained to police about the name-calling in November.

The incident took place during a protest at the University of Sussex.

At the time, Mr Weatherley complained he and his staff had been pelted with rocks by “anarchists” before a planned debate on anti-squatting laws.

But during yesterday's hearing, Brighton Magistrates Court heard the only person charged with any offence was Mr Cline, for calling the MP a “coward”.

The 25-year-old faces one count of 'using threatening/abusive/insulting words/behaviour to cause harassment/alarm/distress'.

He could be handed a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment, a fine of £5,000 or both.

Mr Cline denies harassing the MP or causing him alarm and distress.

'Free speech'

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Cline's solicitor Lydia Dagostino said: “Mr Weatherley has probably been called worse in the Houses of Parliament.

“We'll be vigorously defending this case and the defendant's right to free speech.”

Cases heard in magistrates' court cost the taxpayer around £900 a day.

Mr Cline of Wenlock House, North Street, Brighton, is a former University of Sussex postgraduate student who graduated from the university in September.

He now lectures at the Anglia Ruskin University, teaching “Video Game Contextual Studies” and “Architectural Gaming”.

Mr Weatherley and his colleagues previously told how the crowd turned on them at the university.

He was due to give a talk to the university's Young Conservative group when he was allegedly chased out of the lecture theatre and across the campus.

Mr Weatherley said: “I have given statements to Sussex Police relating to the way in which my staff and I were physically assaulted at Sussex University. I have faith in the police and have no doubt that those responsible will be held to account in due course.”

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