Pair Jailed for Web Race Crimes

BBC News, July 10, 2009

Two men have been jailed after becoming the first in the UK to be convicted of inciting racial hatred via a foreign website.

Simon Sheppard, 51, of Selby in North Yorkshire, received four years and 10 months, and Stephen Whittle, 42, of Preston, two years and four months.

The men printed leaflets and controlled US websites featuring racist material.

They fled to the US after being convicted at Leeds Crown Court last year, but failed in an asylum bid.

Sheppard, of Brook Street, Selby, was found guilty of 11 offences and Whittle, of Avenham Lane, Preston, was found guilty of five offences at a trial in July last year.

Sheppard was convicted of a further five charges in January 2009.

However, before the jury in the first trial could return verdicts, both men fled to Los Angeles International airport and attempted to claim political asylum.

Their bid was thrown out by a US immigration judge.

The men were charged with publishing and distributing racially inflammatory material, and possessing racially inflammatory material with a view to distribution.

Leeds Crown Court was told Whittle wrote offensive articles that were then published on the internet by Sheppard.

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Judge Rodney Grant told the men their material was “abusive and insulting” and had the potential to cause “grave social harm”.

He added: “Such offences as these have, by their very nature, the potential to cause grave social harm, particularly in a society such as ours which has, for a number of years now, been multi-racial.

‘Groundbreaking case’

“These are serious offences. I can say without any hesitation that I have rarely seen, or had to read or consider, material which is so abusive and insulting . . . towards racial groups within our own society.”

The investigation into Sheppard began when a complaint about a leaflet was reported to police in 2004 after it was pushed through the door of a synagogue in Blackpool.

It was traced back to a post office box in Hull registered to Sheppard.

Humberside Police later found a website featuring racially inflammatory material.

The pair thought that they could circumvent English law because their website was hosted in the US.

That, said Adil Khan, head of diversity and community cohesion at Humberside Police, makes their conviction a first.

“This case is groundbreaking,” he said.

“The fact is now that we’ve been able to demonstrate that you’ve got nowhere to hide; people have been hiding on [sic] the fact that this server was in the US.

“Inciting racial hatred is a crime and one which seems to occur too regularly. This kind of material will not be tolerated as this lengthy investigation shows.”

[Editor’s Note: Earlier stories on the flight and return of Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle are liste here.]

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