Tommy Robinson urged his followers to harass grooming trial defendants during ‘reckless’ live video, court hears

EDL founder broke reporting restrictions designed to ensure fair trial, it is claimed

Peter Stubley
Friday 05 July 2019 13:21
Tommy Robinson arrives at the Old Bailey for contempt of court hearing

Tommy Robinson seriously impeded the course of justice by filming defendants in a grooming trial and urging his followers to harass and follow them, a court has heard.

The 36 year-old “recklessly” livestreamed the footage on Facebook even though he knew there were restrictions on reporting the case, the attorney general alleges.

Robinson published the video even though the jury were considering their verdicts in the second of three linked trials of 29 men accused of sexually exploiting girls in Huddersfield.

The former leader of the English Defence League was originally found in contempt of court by the judge in the grooming case in Leeds in May 2018.

He was jailed for 13 months but only served two before he was freed on appeal after judges ruled the hearing was rushed and “fundamentally flawed”.

Earlier this year, the attorney general Geoffrey Cox applied for new proceedings against Robinson and two High Court judges gave permission for a fresh hearing.

Robinson appeared under his real name of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon in court number two of the Old Bailey on Thursday, before Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Warby.

Andrew Caldecott QC, in his opening submissions on behalf of the attorney general, said the publication of the video “gave rise to a substantial risk that the course of justice would be seriously impeded”.

He added: “There was a substantial risk that the video would be seen by some or all of the criminal defendants themselves, and that supporters who saw the video might be inclined to take up his invitation to harass the criminal defendants.”

Any harassment would create a risk that the defendants might fail to attend the trial, he added. “One of the defendants did abscond but the attorney general cannot show or suggest it was because of the livestream.”

Mr Caldecott claimed that Robinson knew there was a reporting restriction in force, or at the very least was reckless as to whether there was a restriction.

Robinson also failed to make proper checks with staff at Leeds Crown Court before livestreaming his encounters with two defendants on his iPhone, it is claimed.

The attorney general argued that comments made by Robinson during the video appeared to assume the guilt of the men on trial.

However court officials admitted that the reporting restrictions were not displayed on the court lists outside court or on TV screens outside the courtroom as a result of an administrative error by staff.

Robinson denied he was encouraging violence or urging his followers to harass the defendants and claimed he was referring to the media rather than people watching the video.

He said he attempted to check whether there was a reporting restriction but thought it may have been lifted because the jury had retired to consider its verdicts.

“I have had training in contempt of court,” he told the court. “Previously I made mistakes, I didn’t know I couldn’t take pictures or film in court... so I had training. I researched all the issues of contempt of court...

“I didn’t report on the proceedings, I simply reported information that was in the public domain. I read the names on the news report.”

Asked why he attacked the media for not reporting the case when he knew there was a reporting restriction, he said he believed the defendants’ photographs should be published so the public knew who they were.

“It was confusing,” Robinson added, before suggesting that he thought the media could have chosen to remain silent about the case.

The trial continues.