Tommy Robinson addresses supporters outside court after case referred to Attorney General

Tommy Robinson walks free after judge refers case to attorney general

EDL founder leaves court to shout about 'Islamic rape jihad gangs' to supporters gathered outside

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
@lizziedearden
Tuesday 23 October 2018 11:32

Tommy Robinson has walked free from court once more after a judge referred his contempt case to the attorney general.

Nicholas Hilliard QC, the recorder of London, had planned to decide whether Robinson should be jailed for a second time himself.

But after receiving a statement from the far-right figurehead, the judge said the way he is able to hear cases himself is too restricted.

“The nature and extent of the controversies to be considered emerge to my eye far more clearly from that statement than ever before,” Judge Hilliard said. “In my judgment the proper course is now for the matter to be referred to the attorney general and I should not after all proceed to conduct a rehearing myself.”

He added that cross-examination of Robinson would be necessary for “there to be a proper and very necessary resolution of the underlying facts”.

“All the evidence must be very rigorously tested on both sides,” he told the court.

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is accused of breaking a blanket reporting restriction on a series of linked grooming gang trials in Leeds with a Facebook Live video in May.

Judge Hilliard said the footage also allegedly “gave rise to a substantial risk of serious prejudice”, which is a separate form of contempt of court.

“Mr Yaxley-Lennon contests both allegations,” he added.

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Mottershaw of West Yorkshire Police speaking outside Leeds Crown Court about Huddersfield grooming gang

The judge said he received a statement from Robinson yesterday “dealing with the issues as he sees them” that changed his mind on how the matter should be dealt with.

On 16 October, he refused submissions from Robinson’s barrister, Richard Furlong, that it should be referred to the attorney general for his consideration.

“I was satisfied that in these very special circumstances I had jurisdiction to hear the two allegations,” he added.

But after receiving the statement he believes it necessary to look at the detail of Robinson’s broadcast so to come to an “overall picture” of what happened.

If the attorney general takes the case forward, counsel for him would be able to lead evidence and cross-examine witnesses.

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said: “This matter has been referred to the attorney general’s office. A law officer will consider all material afresh, and make a decision whether or not to refer Stephen Yaxley-Lennon to the high court for contempt.”

Robinson was freed again on bail, on the condition that he must attend the next hearing where he is required and not approach Leeds Crown Court.

The 35-year-old, who spoke only to confirm his name during the hearing, wore a suit and sat with his lawyers rather than in the dock.

Robinson’s parents watched the hearing from the public gallery alongside other supporters, while “alternative” media journalists from countries including Canada and Australia also attended.

He left court escorted by a group of police officers, who had also guarded the entrance to the courtroom during the hearing.

As news of the outcome reached supporters gathered outside the Old Bailey a huge cheer went up, with protesters waving flags and placards.

Robinson later spoke to them from a small stage, attacking mainstream news outlets as the crowd chanted “scum” and “shame on you”.

He claimed he had not gone to Leeds Crown Court with the intention of breaking reporting restrictions or undermining its authority.

“I believe I acted in good faith within the parameters of the reporting restriction,” Robinson added, claiming the material in his broadcast was already in the public domain.

He called the Huddersfield grooming gang an “Islamic rape jihad gang” and condemned the media as “the enemy of the people”.

In bizarre scenes, the crowd sang the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah. Then, as a man wearing a Donald Trump mask stood next to Robinson on stage, they chanted: “We love Trump!”

Groups represented in the crowd of Robinson’s supporters included Ukip – and leader Gerard Batten – For Britain and the ethno-nationalist organisation Generation Identity, which has branches across Europe.

Asked what its flag meant, a supporter told a Press Association reporter: “F*** off and look it up on the internet.”

Another man asked why he was protesting said: “We are supporting a prosecuted journalist.”

A man beside him called an end to the interview. “Nonce,” he said, clutching a can of Strongbow.

A supporter wearing a union flag suit said: “I have come here to support Tommy Robinson because there’s so many injustices going on in the world today.

“I’ve learned so many things in the last two years, such as the killings of anyone that’s not of the Islamic faith.” A passing cyclist called out: “Fascist.”

Tommy Robinson with a supporter dressed as Donald Trump addressing a crowd outside the Old Bailey from a stage on 23 October (AFP/Getty Images)

There appeared to be fewer protesters than at Robinson’s last hearing in September, where there were clashes with counter-demonstrators and they caused a busy road to be closed.

City of London Police estimated that 500 of Robinson’s supporters and 50 counter-protesters were outside Tuesday’s hearing.

Officers mounted a significant operation for Tuesday’s hearing, closing surrounding roads and advising nearby pubs and bars to close if needed to safeguard against potential disorder.

Counter-protesters said they were called “f***ing scum” by Robinson’s supporters.

Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism, told The Independent the crowd appeared to have an “alt-right” contingent.

“There was a natural class element there, with the football firms, but there were also middle-class people wearing suits,” he added.

“The alt-right element of this has been underestimated. They are all working together.”

Reporting restrictions on the Huddersfield grooming case were lifted on Friday. Out of 20 men convicted of offences including child rape and trafficking, 16 have so far been jailed for 220 years in total.

Lawyers for the defendants applied for the jury in the second trial to be discharged over Robinson’s video.

The attempt would have caused the trial to be reheard at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds, but a judge refused the application.

Robinson was handed a 13-month prison sentence but was freed in August after the Court of Appeal found that the way his case was handled was “fundamentally flawed”.

Senior judges ordered the matter to be reheard and said Robinson may have committed contempt both by violating reporting restrictions and with “generally prejudicial remarks”, including on the “ethnic and religious backgrounds of the defendants”.

“These comments were, at least potentially, capable of amounting to a freestanding contempt of court,” it continued.

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who goes by the name Tommy Robinson, speaks to supporters as he arrives to face contempt of court charges at the Old Bailey in London, on 23 October ( REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)

“The alleged contempt was serious and the sentence might be longer than that already served if a finding is again made against [Robinson].”

Contempt of court laws aim to ensure fair trials in Britain by preventing juries from being swayed by information from outside the hearing, and the laws apply to all forms of online and offline publications.

The offences are covered by a “strict liability rule”, meaning that intent and knowledge of committing them are not necessary for a conviction, nor is proof that a jury was prejudiced.

The Court of Appeal refused to quash a separate finding of contempt from Canterbury Crown Court in May 2017, saying criticism by Robinson’s legal team “had no substance”.

In that case he was handed a three-month suspended sentence for trying to film defendants inside the court during jury deliberations, after being told to stop and warned filming was against the law.

Judge Heather Norton said at the time: “This contempt hearing is not about free speech… it is about justice, and it is about ensuring that a trial can be carried out justly and fairly.”

While on bail, Robinson has triggered a furore over far-right sympathies in the British army by posting footage of recruits he ran into at a motorway service station online.

This weekend, he attended a rally held by the German anti-Islam group Pegida and gave a speech that ended with the slogan: “Wir sind das Volk [we are the people].”

“Now is the time for things to turn, a revolution is on the cards,” Robinson told the crowd in Dresden. “The Muslim invaders want your country for themselves… peace with Islam is a false peace.”

He attempted to found a British offshoot of the group in 2015, having left the EDL two years before.

The Luton father-of-three styles himself as a reporter, raising cash for his work by crowdfunding via his website, which has seen a dramatic increase in donations since his imprisonment.

Robinson’s activism has been interrupted by jail sentences for entering the US with a false passport and mortgage fraud, while he has also been convicted of offences including actual bodily harm, threatening behaviour and drug possession.