Posted on July 5, 2019

Tommy Robinson Found Guilty of Breaching Contempt Law with Facebook Video

Ed Riley and Richard Spillett, Daily Mail, July 5, 2019

Ugly scenes erupted outside the Old Bailey today as police clashed with Tommy Robinson’s supporters after the former English Defence League leader was again found in contempt of court.

Robinson could be sent back to jail after he was was found to have broken the law by ‘aggressively confronting and filming’ defendants in a criminal trial and posting the footage on social media, in breach of a reporting ban, outside Leeds Crown Court in May 2018.

Following a long-running legal back-and-forth, the case was settled at the Old Bailey today, where a large crowd of Robinson’s fans turned nasty after the verdict.

A number of them marched purposefully towards the front of the court entrance, to barriers sectioning off police from the public.

The crowd, as one, then began chanting ‘shame on you’ while pointing at the court.

Missiles and beer cans were thrown at journalists, and some Robinson supporters sprang from the crowd to film the reporters who surrounded the 36-year-old as he left court, calling them ‘scum’.

Robinson was previously jailed for the offence, but freed on appeal.

He’ll now have to wait to see whether he’ll be sent back to prison or be allowed to keep his freedom having already served two months of a 13-month sentence.

Today’s verdict means Robinson will return to prison if he is given a sentence of four months or more when he returns to court later this month. Anything less than that and he will have already served half the custodial period.

Inside the Old Bailey today, Dame Victoria Sharp said the court found Robinson committed contempt of court in three respects.

She said he breached the reporting restriction imposed on the trial, by livestreaming the video from outside the public entrance to the court and by ‘aggressively confronting and filming’ some of the defendants.

The judge said the content of the video ‘gave rise to a substantial risk that the course of justice in that case would be seriously impeded’ and the confrontation of the defendants was a direct interference with the course of justice.

The judge added: ‘In our judgment, the respondent’s conduct in each of those respects amounted to a serious interference with the administration of justice.

‘Detailed reasons for this decision will be handed down shortly. A hearing to decide the appropriate penalty will take place on a date to be fixed by the court.’

Robinson had denied any wrongdoing, saying he did not believe he was breaching reporting restrictions and only referred to information that was already in the public domain.

The video Robinson posted lasted an hour-and-a-half and was viewed online 250,000 times after being live-streamed on Facebook.

A provisional date for his sentencing was given as July 11, depending on the availability of a medical expert for Robinson.

High Court judges have heard that Robinson was ‘reckless’ and breached the reporting restriction because he wanted the public to see the faces of defendants in a criminal trial.

Lawyers for Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC, whose application to have Robinson committed to prison is being heard at the Old Bailey, said Robinson’s ‘whole objective’ was to ‘get the defendants’ faces out there’.

Andrew Caldecott QC, for the Attorney General, told the Old Bailey on Friday that a security officer at Leeds Crown Court, where the alleged offence took place, said he had suggested Robinson check for reporting restrictions at the court office.

The barrister said the ‘critical question’ was why Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, ‘declined the invitation to take this obvious step which would have put the matter beyond doubt’.

He added: ‘We say the answer clearly is that he made a reckless assumption as to what he might be able to do because it suited him to do so, and the reason it suited him to do so was that his whole objective was to get the defendants’ faces out there.’

Mr Caldecott told Dame Victoria Sharp and Mr Justice Warby, who are hearing the case, Robinson ‘took a punt’ by referring to details in previous reports of the Huddersfield grooming case – which had been published before the reporting ban was ordered.

He said: ‘Mr Yaxley-Lennon did find the Huddersfield Examiner online and he took a punt that because the names and the charges had been out there earlier, he took a punt on being able to get away with mentioning them to give necessary context to the people he was filming.’

Robinson, who denies any wrongdoing, has said he did not believe he was breaching reporting restrictions and only referred to information that was already in the public domain.

Wearing a blue jacket, blue shirt and jeans, he sat next to his lawyers in court as Mr Caldecott summarised the Attorney General’s case to the judges.

Mr Furlong, for Robinson, said: ‘We say that the allegations of harassing and indirectly causing or creating a risk that (the defendants) would abscond are … fanciful evidentially.’

The barrister told the court he relied on the ‘robust’ responses the defendants being filmed gave to Robinson as he asked them ‘fairly anodyne’ questions when they entered Leeds Crown Court.

He added: ‘Obviously because of who he is, he receives very robust responses indeed.’

Mr Furlong told the judges: ‘The court, in my submission, should be careful to distinguish Mr Yaxley-Lennon’s conduct from who he is, and it is plain that he is regarded — and, in particular, regarded by the criminal defendants — as somebody with a certain set of political opinions.

‘It is not unimaginable that the Attorney General might argue in a different set of circumstances that Mr Yaxley-Lennon’s mere presence would be capable of amounting to a strict liability contempt.’

He added: ‘It is not unimaginable that that situation would arise in the sense that the criminal defendants might feel harassed by having somebody with his political opinions standing outside the court, even if he is doing nothing.’

Mr Furlong continued: ‘He should not be judged by a different standard of behaviour because of who he is.’

The barrister argued that the standard of behaviour amounting to strict liability contempt ‘should not vary depending on the extent to which the individual journalist holds controversial political opinions’.

Mr Furlong referred to part of the video in which Robinson discussed the leader of far-right group Generation Identity, who he claimed had been harassed by reporters.

He said Robinson had been addressing the ‘mainstream media’ when he used the words ‘follow’ and ‘harass’ in relation to the defendants and was not encouraging his supporters to do so.

The barrister added: ‘The point is, it isn’t that he is urging that, but he is rhetorically asking why the mainstream media do not do that and harass the leader of Generation Identity, rather than people accused of offences of this sort.’

Mr Furlong played to the court a video of Robinson arriving at the Old Bailey ahead of an earlier hearing in May, which he said showed the ‘robust standard of the behaviour of the media’.

The footage, which showed BBC reporter Lucy Manning questioning Robinson as he made his way to court, showed the exchange ‘between a respectable and respected journalist and Mr Yaxley-Lennon’, Mr Furlong said.

He added that the exchange was ‘very much in the robust traditions of the questioning by the British media and conduct of that sort is perfectly acceptable’.

The barrister said: ‘They (the exchanges between Robinson and the defendants) are not, or certainly not materially, different to the sort of behaviour up and down the country day in and day out, and Mr Yaxley-Lennon should not be singled out.’

Robinson broadcast the footage on May 25, 2018 while the jury in the second grooming trial was considering its verdict.

A reporting restriction was in place which postponed the publication of any details of the case until the end of a series of linked trials involving 29 people, in a bid to ensure all defendants received a fair trial.

The 36-year-old, from Luton, Bedfordshire, was jailed for 13 months after being found in contempt of court on the day of the broadcast.

The video lasted an hour-and-a-half and was viewed online 250,000 times after being live-streamed on Facebook.

He served two months in jail before being freed after that finding of contempt was overturned by the Court of Appeal in August 2018.

But the case was then referred back to the Attorney General, who announced in March that it was in the public interest to bring fresh proceedings against Robinson.

Dame Victoria and Mr Justice Warby gave permission for the Attorney General to bring a new case against Robinson at a hearing in May.

He could be sent back to jail if he is again found in contempt, an offence which carries a maximum sentence of two years.

A crowd of supporters outside court reached about 300 at its height on Thursday afternoon.