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Tommy Robinson’s New Contempt of Court Conviction

From Leeds Live:

The founder of the English Defence League has been jailed over comments which had the potential to cause a retrial at Leeds Crown Court, it can now be reported.

Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, streamed an hour-long Facebook Live outside the court last Friday and within hours it had been watched more than 250,000 times.

A judge who locked the far right activist up for 13 months for contempt of court told him his actions may cause a long-running trial to be retried which would cost taxpayers ‘hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds’.

…He pleaded guilty to contempt of court and breach of a suspended sentence.

Matthew Harding, mitigating, said his client felt “deep regret” after realising the potential consequences of his actions.

The story (previously partially blogged here) has been widely reported (and misreported); however, I give Leeds Live precedence because the site successfully challenged a reporting ban yesterday, and one of its journalists, Stephanie Finnegan, was present when Robinson was outside the court and when he was brought before the judge. She has an account here.

The legal issues involved have been explained in a definitive commentary on the Secret Barrister blog, but despite Robinson’s guilty plea and apparent acceptance that he was in the wrong, his supporters are crying foul. In particular, Breitbart UK‘s Raheem Kassam claims that Robinson”was refused basic and normal access to a good lawyer who knows contempt law”, and that his “public defender” (a deliberate Americanism) had “urged him under the duress of arrest, to plead guilty”. Secret Barrister has offered sceptical responses to these claims, prompting Kassam to call him a “fake barrister” and then to block him on Twitter (1). I don’t know whether Kassam’s inference that Robinson was insincere in his “deep regret” may cause Robinson difficulties when it comes to parole time, but it seems to me to have lacked circumspection.

I have watched Robinson’s livestream, which lasts for 1 hour and 15 minutes; however, no link is provided, as the reporting restrictions relating to the trial he was filming outside remain in place until other linked trials are completed (this was also why Robinson’s own proceedings could not be reported until now). Discussion must therefore be cautious.

The livestream begins with Robinson goading several defendants as they arrive at the court, asking them about how they feel about the verdict to come and about the things they have with them. He then offers commentary on their responses and demeanour. These defendants had apparently arrived early – when Robinson is arrested an hour later for breach of the peace, all seems to be quiet at that moment, but after such an intro the judge had good reason to foresee disorder as other people involved with the case arrived.

For most of the livestream, Robinson talks about crimes similar to the allegations at Leeds Crown Court. He expounds on the supposed prevalence of this sort of crime; on its disgusting nature, and the injustice of perpetrators going unpunished; and on what he believes its perpetrators have in common, and the reasons for their offending. He does remind viewers that this does not mean that the defendants arriving at Leeds Crown Court are therefore guilty, but this is a fig-leaf when weighed against such obviously prejudicial commentary. He also uses the word “alleged” a lot, but he does not do so consistently, and on one occasion he refers to the defendants simply as “perpetrators”. He also makes further observations about the defendants, and according to  Finnegan, there were inaccuracies in statements he made about the case.

Throughout the livestream, Robinson shows an awareness of treading a fine line as regards the law, but he seems to have genuinely believed that he was keeping within it, and within the terms of the suspended sentence handed to him in Canterbury a year ago. However, treading a fine line is hardly sensible when it comes to court reporting, particularly when you have no training in the subject and you know there are special reporting restrictions in place. Perhaps he could have taken legal advice before attending: but the Canterbury judge was clear enough about what would happen if he repeated his behaviour, and Robinson’s view of that case as expressed in the livestream is that it was “bullshit” and an attempt to “deter” him (in fact, the suspended sentence was a leniency which allowed him to keep the liberty he has now thrown away). One wonders if the Leeds judge was aware of this “bullshit” assessment when Robinson assured him of his “deep regret”.

Since Robinson’s detainment, a couple of messages have been relayed the outside world. Over the weekend, Mark Collett said that he had been asked by a third party to convey Robinson’s wish “for people not to attempt to contact him in prison or send him anything”, as he doesn’t want “to jeopardise his case or give the state an excuse to move him to a different prison”. Collett, a former BNP activist best known for having once told an undercover journalist that “Hitler will live forever”, is perhaps an unfortunate conduit. Meanwhile, Alex Jones’s Infowars has a segment called “Infowars Reporter Relays Message From Tommy Robinson In Prison”, featuring Alex Jones in conversation with the site’s reporter Harrison Smith.

UPDATE: On 29 May, Robinson’s regular lawyer Alison Gurden took to Twitter:

I am TR lawyer but was not in court on Friday. Sadly virtually everyone passing comment on TR, including lawyers are unaware of the full facts & are in danger of creating fake news. I won’t make any statement or give the actual facts until TR requests that I do so.


1. Kassam is on a bit of a roll when it comes to identifying “fakes”: a few days ago, he suggested that Mamoudou Gassama’s dramatic rescue of a baby hanging from a balcony in Paris had been staged (“This doesn’t smell like bullshit at all!!”). But will he ever spot the fake who looks at him every day in the mirror? This is the man who sees no contradiction between addressing a free speech rally and using a spurious complaint to have someone locked out of their Twitter feed for a week.