Attorney general asked to review sentence of neo-Nazi terror offender told to read literature

Ben John’s two-year prison sentence for possessing a terrorist document was suspended for two years

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Thursday 02 September 2021 18:58
<p>Pride and Prejudice was among the works Ben John was told to read </p>

Pride and Prejudice was among the works Ben John was told to read

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The attorney general has been asked to consider whether a neo-Nazi student was given an “unduly lenient” sentence for a terror offence.

Ben John was handed a suspended prison sentence for possessing a terrorist document, meaning he will not be jailed unless he breaks the conditions imposed by the court.

Judge Timothy Spencer QC ordered the 21-year-old to exchange extreme right-wing material for literary classics at a sentencing hearing on Tuesday.

“Have you read Dickens? Austen? Start with Pride and Prejudice and Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Think about Hardy. Think about Trollope,” the judge was reported to have said.

”On 4 January you will tell me what you have read and I will test you on it. I will test you and if I think you are [lying to] me you will suffer.”

Reports of the sentencing sparked fierce debate, and comparisons with sentences given to other young people for the same offence.

The counter-extremist organisation Hope Not Hate sent a letter to the attorney general on Wednesday calling for a review under the Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme.

Chief executive Nick Lowles wrote: “A suspended sentence and a suggested reading list of English classics for a terror conviction is unduly lenient for a crime of this nature.

“This sentence is sending a message that violent right-wing extremists may be treated leniently by the courts. That is a dangerous message to send when the far right poses the fastest-growing terror threat today.”

Mr Lowles argued that “lenient sentences” could lead young people not to fear repercussions from accessing terrorist and extremist content online.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said: “We have received a request for the sentence of Ben John to be considered under the Unduly Lenient Sentence (ULS) scheme. The law officers have 28 days from sentencing to consider the case and make a decision.”

If the request is granted, the sentence will be assessed by Court of Appeal judges and may be changed.

Judge Spencer labelled John a “sad fantasist”, saying he did not have any terrorist motivations himself and was not likely to cause harm.

Leicester Crown Court heard John had amassed a wealth of white supremacist, antisemitic and satanic material, as well as explosives manuals.

Following a trial in August, a jury convicted him of one count of possessing information useful to a terrorist over a document containing instructions on how to construct various explosive devices.

John was acquitted of six other counts of the same offence, after saying he did not know what the documents contained.

At the time of his arrest in January 2020, John was studying for a criminology and psychology degree at the University of Leicester.

Judge Spencer rejected his claims that the research was a “mere academic fascination”, and found that he had aligned with extreme ideologies.

John was given a two-year prison sentence, which was suspended for two years, and must fulfil the terms of a five-year Serious Crime Prevention Order and tagged curfew.

He was released from custody at the sentencing hearing, having been held on remand since 11 August because he had broken his bail conditions.

Detective Inspector James Manning, of Counter Terrorism Policing East Midlands, said: “John possessed a wealth of National Socialist and antisemitic material which indicated a fascination and belief in a white supremacist ideology, along with support for an extreme satanic group [the Order of Nine Angles] which is increasingly of concern for law enforcement agencies.

“The terrorist material he was found in possession of is extremely dangerous, and he acquired this to further his ideology. It indicates the threat that he and other followers of this hateful ideology pose to national security.”

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