Tommy Robinson hailed it as “judgment day for the British government and the establishment”, but in the end it was judgment day for no one.
The far-right figurehead’s contempt of court case was adjourned at the Old Bailey in a hearing lasting less than half an hour.
The Recorder of London, Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC, invited lawyers to make written submissions on whether there should be a “substantive hearing” and how it should proceed.
Addressing Robinson by his real name, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the judge released him on bail until the next court date, which could be in October.
“Your bail will continue on the same terms as before and when the next hearing takes place you are required to attend as a condition of your bail,” he said. “If you do not attend the case will go ahead without you and that will not be in your interest.”
News of Robinson’s continuing freedom was greeted with jubilation by hundreds of his supporters who gathered outside the court under the watchful eye of police.
Some waved banners for groups including Ukip, Anne Marie Waters’ For Britain party and the far-right group Generation Identity, while one man donned a T-shirt reading “rivers of blood” in reference to Enoch Powell’s speech.
Many of Robinson’s supporters were holding their own signs, reading “no to Sharia law”, attacking the “fake news media” and calling for “freedom of speech”.
But that freedom was not applied to counter-demonstrators, who were shouted down and labelled “scum”, or for a woman holding a placard listing Robinson’s previous criminal offences.
After it was spotted, a small group of angry supporters starting shouting at the woman, ripping the sign out of her hand and destroying it before she was surrounded by police officers.
Emma Lyons, a 20-year-old history student at the London School of Economics, said her sign had been a “list of the laws Tommy Robinson has broken”, including mortgage fraud and entering the US under a false passport.
Visibly shaken, she told The Independent: “I was just holding it and people ripped it out of my hands. I was just drawing attention to what’s happening, just the facts.”
She said Robinson’s supporters started shouting at her about “Muslim rape gangs” and accused her of being a Holocaust denier.
Ms Lyons said she protested over concern that Robinson had jeopardised a case at Leeds Crown Court and because “it bothers me with the way it’s being portrayed and the people he surrounds himself with”.
“I wouldn’t say that this is a case that’s been well managed by the legal system but I don’t think it’s a freedom of speech issue,” she added.
As tensions rose, officials at the Old Bailey shut the main entrance used by lawyers, jurors and journalists, and later had to scrub human faeces off the door.
Anti-media sentiment ran strongly through the crowd, with Robinson supporters filming and photographing journalists as photographers were verbally abused, pushed and shoved.
The mood lightened with cheers and chants of “we love you” as the 35-year-old emerged from the building.
“I believe they want me in prison for Christmas,” he claimed. “I’m being specifically targeted for who I am.”
Robinson spoke to the crowd through a megaphone as bemused tourists filmed the scene from passing tour buses and police tried to stop protesters spilling into a busy road through the City of London.
Traffic was halted on one side of Ludgate Hill in chaotic scenes as Robinson was followed through the streets.
City of London Police said one person was arrested for breach of the peace during the demonstrations but did not have any further information.
The force was also investigating whether Robinson’s former employer, Ezra Levant of Canadian website Rebel Media, had broken contempt of court laws himself by filming inside the Old Bailey.
Footage of Robinson looking out court windows at his supporters below were shared by Mr Levant on social media, appearing to violate the law against photography within court buildings or precincts.
“We have been made aware of a video on social media which appears to show filming taking place inside the Central Criminal Court, and has been shared online,” a spokesperson for City of London Police said. “We will be looking into whether any offences have been committed.”
Protesters vowed to return to the Old Bailey for Robinson’s next hearing, where Judge Hilliard will decide how the case will proceed and where.
A judge will later consider allegations that Robinson “published a matter which is likely to cause contempt of court” during ongoing trials in Leeds.
He was originally jailed for 13 months over a Facebook Live video he broadcast from outside the city’s crown court in May, but the findings were overturned last month and he was freed.
Court of Appeal judges ordered a rehearing, saying the “alleged contempt was serious and the sentence might be longer than that already served”.
Robinson is also accused of breaching the conditions of a three-month suspended sentence he was handed for a separate contempt offence in Canterbury in 2017.
He was released from prison on 1 August, when high-profile backers including the Ukip leader Gerard Batten, Dutch opposition leader Geert Wilders and the former Breitbart London editor Raheem Kassam hailed the verdict as a victory for “freedom of speech”.
The Court of Appeal found that procedural failings by the judge who jailed Robinson at Leeds Crown Court “gave rise to unfairness” and meant proceedings were “fundamentally flawed”.
The Lord Chief Justice and two other judges said that while Geoffrey Marson QC was right to bring Robinson before him to have the Facebook video deleted and protect jury deliberations, the case was dealt with too fast and did not follow criminal procedure rules.
They found that Judge Marson “proceeded on the basis that the appellant had admitted his contempt” after Robinson’s lawyer apologised on his behalf, but he was not asked to respond to the particulars of the allegations himself.
Judges did not say Robinson had not committed contempt of court, and accused him of delaying the appeals “for tactical reasons and collateral advantage”.
Their judgment suggested that 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.
“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 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.