Britain First leader Paul Golding convicted of terror offence

Far-right leader refused to give police access to his devices after being stopped at Heathrow Airport while returning from Russia

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Wednesday 20 May 2020 16:43
Britain First leader Paul Golding speaks at court following conviction

The leader of far-right organisation Britain First has been convicted of a terror offence.

Paul Golding refused to hand police the passwords to his phone, laptop hard drive after being stopped at Heathrow Airport in October.

He and senior members of Britain First were returning from a trip to Russia, where they carried out media interviews and visited the parliament building in Moscow.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that the group were stopped by Metropolitan Police officers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act.

Golding, 38, refused to give the pin codes for an iPhone and Apple computer and was later charged with wilfully refusing to comply with a duty under the law.

He denied the charge but was found guilty of the offence following a trial on Wednesday.

Chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot ruled there was “no doubt” that Golding had failed to comply with requests for information, despite his obligations being explained to him and being warned “over and over” that if he did not he risked arrest.

She said Golding had been lawfully questioned and that under Schedule 7 there had been no requirement for “reasonable suspicion” for the stop.

He was handed a nine-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £750 in costs and a victim surcharge of £21.

Golding, who has previously been jailed for religiously-aggravated harassment, was supported by English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson from the court's socially distanced public gallery.

He was stopped alongside Britain First communications officer Tim Burton – a former member of the far-right Liberty GB party who was jailed for harassing a Muslim anti-hate crime campaigner in 2017.

They were with Britain First public relations officer Ashlea Simon, known online as Ashlea Robyn, who led pro-Brexit “yellow vest” protests in Manchester last year. She and Mr Burton were not arrested.

A Britain First press release called Russia a “patriotic, nationalist country that promotes all the traditionalist, Christian and Western values” said the trip aimed to further relations with members of the Russian parliament and extend its support base.

The extremists said they met with nationalist MPs from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and visited their Moscow headquarters.

Appearing on the state-owned Russia 24 channel during the trip, Golding backed the “great replacement” conspiracy theory that has inspired terror attacks in counties including New Zealand, the US and Norway.

He claimed the EU was trying to “eradicate” national cultures, adding: “It’s going to end in bloodshed in western countries.”

Golding denies links to terrorism and characterises himself as a “dissident politician”, despite the fact his group is no longer a political party, and claims to have been “persecuted” by the “establishment”.

PC Rory O'Connor, one of the officers who questioned Golding, told the court that Schedule 7 enables accredited officers to search and question people at UK ports on whether "they have been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”.

He said he had cause to examine Golding under the legislation and recalled him being initially “agitated” and “clearly angry” at being stopped, and shouting at officers.

Prosecutor Samuel Main said that for nearly three hours Golding was questioned about his activities in Russia after flying out with the two others on 20 October.

Golding told police he was on a “purely political trip” after establishing friendships in Russia during a previous international congress.

He told officers that he had travelled under the invitation of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), which he described as a “right wing, conservative, patriotic group” who were not “extreme”.

Golding said he had not met any representative of the Russian government, the court heard.

Britain First members pelted with rocks after hassling migrants

He described Britain First as a “patriotic, right-wing, conservative” group who considered themselves as “loyalist”.

In clips of an audio recording of the interview played in court, Golding said the request for his pin codes was “wildly inappropriate”, “completely unjustified”, represented an “abuse of police powers” and was a “political witch hunt”.

Golding added: “I don't think think you have any grounds to suspect me of terrorism in any way shape or form”.

Representing Golding, Abigail Bright said Britain First had never been a banned organisation and that his devices contained members’ personal details.

Mr Main said that at “no point” had Golding mentioned there being “sensitive material” on his devices.

Commander Richard Smith, head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, said Schedule 7 examinations were "incredibly useful to help keep the UK safe" and had uncovered a terror plot in the past.

“The importance of Schedule 7 is real and that’s why police take a refusal to comply with it very seriously," he added.

The power has long generated controversy, amid persistent allegations of discrimination against Muslims.

Leader of Britain First Paul Golding

In 2019, the power was used on 9,540 people - down a fifth on the previous year - and a Home Office report said it had become “more targeted”.

Almost a third identified as Chinese or other, 29 per cent Asian, 26 per cent white, 8 per cent black and 6 per cent mixed-race.

Messages sent to Britain First subscribers online called for donations to replace the electronic equipment seized by police, and later for Golding’s defence.

The group has struggled with fundraising since its Facebook page, which had more than two million followers, was deleted in March 2018.

Former deputy leader Jayda Fransen, whose anti-Muslim tweets had been shared by Donald Trump, later left the group and has since alleged that Golding physically abused her.

There have been calls for Britain First to be proscribed in the wake of attacks carried out by its supporters.

The Finsbury Park terrorist Darren Osborne had read Fransen and Golding’s material before ploughing a van into Muslim worshippers leaving Ramadan prayers in June 2017.

In June that year, Marek Zakrocki drove his car into a restaurant after telling his wife he wanted to “kill a Muslim” and was “doing this for Britain”.

The Polish man, who was also carrying a kitchen knife and Nazi coin, had donated money to Britain First and police found the group’s flyers at his home.

Additional reporting by PA

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