Prominent far right figures around the world have welcomed the release of jailed English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, after the court of appeal ordered he should be retried on a contempt of court charge.
A campaign to release Robinson gathered momentum after he was handed a 13-month sentence earlier this year for breaches of reporting restrictions at Leeds and Canterbury crown courts.
Crowds of supporters gathered outside the court on Wednesday as lord chief justice Lord Burnett of Maldon upheld the Canterbury conviction, but ordered the Leeds ruling be reconsidered, saying it was rushed and “flawed”
Robinson will now be released on bail on condition that he attend a retrial before the recorder of London at a future date.
Dutch anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders, who has previously called Robinson a “staunch freedom fighter” and compared him to Winston Churchill said: “Fantastic news! Tommy won and will be released today. A free man again!”
Australian politician Pauline Hanson and Canadian activist Lauren Southern also tweeted the news Robinson had been released alongside the hashtag “free Tommy”. Ms Southern has previously been barred from the UK for distributing racist material and has called Robinson a “hero”.
Ukip’s leader Gerard Batten praised Robinson’s “courage” and claimed his crimes were “very minor” compared to the late South African anti-apartheid champion, Nelson Mandela.
Mr Batten, who spoke at a rally in support of Mr Robinson in July, welcomed the judgement in a tweet, saying: “A word of appreciation for the appeal court today. They held up the best traditions of English law.”
In an interview with the BBC’s World at One, Mr Batten, who is also am MEP at the European Parliament, said
“Nelson Mandela, for example, was a terrorist and plotted to kill people and know he’s an international hero. Well, Tommy Robinson was never in that league, his crimes are very minor compared to that.
Asked whether he was more of a “saint” than Mr Mandela, the Ukip leader added: “I don’t think either of them are saints. I think that Tommy Robinson is small fry compared to terrorism and murdering people.”
Former leader of the now-defunct British National Party Nick Griffin said: “Despite my opposition to his liberalism, support for (non-Muslim) immigration & support for AlQaeda-backing Israel, it’s good to hear that #TommyRobinson has been set free to go home to his family. That sentence was monstrous!”
Commentator Katie Hopkins said in a tweet she was “looking forward to an apology” from the judge who jailed Robinson. She later posted a composite image comparing photos of Robinson before and after his period in prison. “The British State fattens up Jihadis on taxpayers cash, starves an innocent man imprisoned by a kangaroo court,” she said.
Meanwhile, Paul Joseph Watson, a senior editor at US-based website Infowars, which circulates conspiracy theories, said in a Twitter post: ”Tommy Robinson is coming home.”
Robinson was jailed in May after he filmed people involved in a criminal trial and broadcast the footage on social media.
The footage, lasting around an hour, was watched 250,000 times within hours of being posted on Facebook.
The far-right activist was given 10 months for contempt of court, which he admitted, and a further three months for breaching a previous suspended sentence.
The judgment said Robinson was detained outside Leeds Crown Court after using social media to broadcast details of trials subject to blanket reporting restrictions.
In May last year he had faced contempt proceedings over footage he filmed during the trial of four men who were later convicted of gang-raping a teenage girl.
A judge at Canterbury Crown Court gave him a three-month suspended sentence and told him his punishment was not about “freedom of speech or freedom of the press” but about “justice and ensuring that a trial can be carried out justly and fairly”.
Lord Burnett, giving reasons for the court’s decision relating to the Leeds Crown Court allegation, said that once Robinson “had removed the video from Facebook there was no longer sufficient urgency to justify immediate proceedings”.
The judge at Leeds should not have commenced contempt proceedings that day.
Lord Burnett said “no particulars of the contempt were formulated or put to the appellant”, and there was “a muddle over the nature of the contempt being considered”.
He added: “Where a custodial term of considerable length is being imposed, it should not usually occur so quickly after the conduct which is complained of; a sentence of committal to immediate custody had been pronounced within five hours of the conduct taking place.”
The judges announced they had dismissed Robinson’s appeal in respect of the contempt finding at Canterbury Crown Court.
Additional reporting by Press Association
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