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Tommy Robinson

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1285355.  Tue May 29, 2018 9:04 am Reply with quote

Couldn't find an appropriate thread, so here goes:

The Secret Barrister has written a blogpost on Tommy Robinson's prison sentence. There are many misunderstandings re this subject, so a bit of light in the darkness is always a good thing.
Yes it's long. So what?

What on earth happened to poor Tommy Robinson?

10 Things You Should Know.

Posted on May 25, 2018 by thesecretbarrister
It can now be reported that Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League, convicted fraudster, sometime-football hooligan and self-reinvented free speech advocate, was on Friday 25 May 2018 imprisoned for 13 months for contempt of court after livestreaming footage of participants in a criminal trial outside Leeds Crown Court.

Some people will have seen reference to this on social media; others may have had the plight of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – to use his real name – drawn to their attention by the hordes of protestors storming London over the May bank holiday weekend. But there has not, until today, been mainstream coverage of the case due to a reporting restriction – what is known as a “postponement order” – that forbade publication of these facts until after the conclusion of the trial (and subsequent related trial) upon which he was purporting to “report”.

While, as we’ll see below, the reasons for the postponement order appear sound, the consequence of preventing fair and accurate reporting by responsible journalists was that there was no factual counterpoint to the selective and inaccurate details of Yaxley-Lennon’s situation that were inevitably flooded through social media by his knuckle-dragging cheerleaders, not least his racists-in-arms across the pond. Thus sprung a (largely unchallenged and unchallengeable) narrative of Tommy The Brave being arrested outside court for no reason and imprisoned in secret by the deep state, culminating in petitions for his release and a Nazi-themed march on Downing Street.

On the day itself, I attempted a post aimed at shining a little light on what might have happened (having no knowledge of the proceedings myself), but having been alerted by a reporter to the terms of the reporting restrictions, took the post down out of an abundance of caution. Now, however, with the restrictions lifted we can try to restore a little order.

The full judgment is still awaited (expected imminently). For now let’s take this story in pieces based on what we know.


1. Why was Tommy Robinson arrested?

Robinson was arrested outside Leeds Crown Court having video recorded a number of men – including defendants involved in a live trial – entering the court building, and livestreaming the footage on Facebook in what he claimed was an attempt at legitimate court reporting. West Yorkshire police, having been alerted to his activities, arrested Lennon at the scene. The initial reports suggested that he was arrested for a suspected breach of the peace, but what is now clear from the judgment published today is that his actions in broadcasting details about the trial were in breach of reporting restrictions.

2. What are reporting restrictions?

The starting point of our criminal justice system is that justice must be seen to be done. However the law provides for exceptions to open justice, known generally as “reporting restrictions”. Reporting restrictions apply in a wide range of situations – from automatic restrictions preventing the identification of a complainant in a sexual allegation, to restrictions preventing reporting of Youth Court proceedings, to discretionary restrictions protecting the identity of child witnesses in the adult courts. Further details, if you are interested, can be found here.

One breed of restriction order is something called a “postponement order”, under section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. Postponement orders are not unusual, particularly where there are a series of linked trials – for example, where allegations of grooming rings involving 30 defendants are concerned, there will be several trials (it not being physically possible to accommodate 30 defendants in a single courtroom). To avoid jurors having their deliberations contaminated by what they might read or hear about the earlier linked trials, reporting of all of them is often postponed until the end. Where there is a separate-but-related issue, such as a contempt of court involving a third party, this can also be the subject of a section 4(2) order. The test is:

Would a fair, accurate and contemporaneous report of the proceedings (or part thereof) published in good faith create a substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice in those or other proceedings?
Is an order postponing the publication of such reports necessary and are its terms proportionate? Would such an order eliminate the risk of prejudice to the administration of justice? Could less restrictive measures achieve the objective?
On the specific facts of this case, does the public interest in protecting the administration of justice outweigh the strong public interest in open justice?

This is what we had here. The judge had imposed a postponement order preventing the media from reporting on the ongoing trial until all linked trials had concluded.

Breaching a reporting restriction amounts to a contempt of court. Which is what Yaxley-Lennon admitted doing.

3. But I heard Tommy Robinson was arrested for a breach of the peace. What is a breach of the peace? How is a breach of the peace caused by someone simply filming?

Police officers have common law powers (i.e. powers not set out in statute) to arrest somebody where a breach of the peace is committed or where the officer reasonably believes it will be committed in the immediate future. As to what constitutes a breach of the peace, it is defined in case law as follows: “there is a breach of the peace whenever harm is actually done or is likely to be done to a person or in his presence to his property or a person is in fear of being so harmed through an assault, an affray, a riot, unlawful assembly or other disturbance.” (R v Howell [1982] Q.B. 416) As we can see, it’s a fairly broad definition.

The courts have confirmed that it covers situations where, for example, there are reasonable grounds to fear that a demonstrator or protestor is likely to incite violence, even violence against themselves. This appears to be applicable to the present case. Robinson provocatively filming defendants, selected deliberately by ethnicity, and streaming on Facebook for the edification of his cult, is the kind of thing which could, it might be argued, lead to a breach of the peace.

Once a person has been arrested for breaching the peace, the police have the power to detain that person where there is a real apprehension that if released they will renew the breach of the peace within a short time, and where the police believe that further detention is necessary to prevent this. Given Robinson’s history of interfering with criminal trials and his defiance towards court orders, one can see why the police may have genuinely feared that he would have simply returned to court if not detained. The power of detention is time-limited – the detainee must be released within 24 hours (if not charged), or for serious (indictable) offences, detention may be authorised up to 96 hours.

4. How can it be legal for somebody to be arrested for breach of the peace and then imprisoned for contempt?
It is perfectly common for a person to be arrested on suspicion of one offence, and then ultimately charged or dealt with for another. In this case, it appears that Yaxley-Lennon was arrested and detained for causing or threatening a breach of the peace, and that the court, upon being made aware of his activities, directed that he be brought to court to be dealt with for contempt of court. Even if his original arrest and detention had been unlawful (and there is nothing at all to suggest that it was), this would have absolutely no bearing on the contempt proceedings. The “breach of the peace” angle is a red herring.

5. So back up a step – what exactly is contempt of court?

Contempt of court is a broad, catch-all term for various offences against the administration of justice. The law(s) of contempt are designed to safeguard the fairness of legal proceedings and to maintain the authority and dignity of the court. Some contempts are set out in statute, including the aptly-named Contempt of Court Act 1981. This sets out what is referred to as “strict liability contempt” – the rule that it is a contempt to publish any matter which creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice or impediment to the course of justice in legal proceedings, irrespective of the intention behind the publication. There is a defence available to publishers (which includes newspapers, TV and social media users) who can show they were providing “a fair and accurate report of legal proceedings held in public, published contemporaneously and in good faith”, thus giving some latitude to the press and ensuring that the media do not shy away from accurate, factual reporting of criminal proceedings.

Other contempts are more eclectic, such as the prohibition on taking photographs or moving images inside a court building (or even drawing a picture – court sketch artists have to draw outside the court from memory – section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925).

There is also a common law offence of “criminal contempt”, which is defined by the courts as “conduct that denotes wilful defiance of, or disrespect towards the court, or that wilfully challenges or affronts the authority of the court or the supremacy of the law itself.” This might include refusing to answer questions in court, physically disrupting court proceedings, interfering with witnesses or jurors (where not charged as a distinct offence of witness intimidation or perverting the course of justice) or defying a judge’s order.

Which brings us back to Mr Yaxley-Lennon, and a sunny day in May last year at Canterbury Crown Court.

6. What happened at Canterbury Crown Court?

On 8 May 2017, during the course of a rape trial at Canterbury Crown Court involving four (Asian) defendants, Yaxley-Lennon attended court and attempted to film the defendants for an online broadcast entitled “Tommy Robinson in Canterbury exposing Muslim child rapists”. He was thwarted by the judge making arrangements for the defendants and jurors to leave court through alternative routes, and so settled for filming himself on camera, both on the court steps and inside the court building, preaching to his online followers about “Muslim paedophiles”. He was interrupted and told by court staff that recording was prohibited (section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925, as we’ve discussed above), but continued to record, insisting that he had been told by a different court that he was entitled to film the defendants (notwithstanding that court buildings are plastered with signs reminding people not to do this). His video diatribe – in which he said that “the paedophiles are hiding”, that the police had asked him not to “expose” them as paedophiles (presumably on the basis that they were, at that time, defendants in a live trial) but that “we will”, and that he would be “going round to their house” to catch the defendants on camera – thus continued. The judge hearing the rape trial was made aware, and he was brought before court to be dealt with for contempt of court.

The judge, HHJ Norton, dealt with Yaxley-Lennon on 22 May 2017. She found that he was in contempt by having filmed inside the court building, contrary to section 41, but was also in common law contempt by having continued to film having been told to stop by the court staff. The judge considered the content of his broadcast, and the real risk of his actions derailing the trial, and committed him to prison for 3 months, suspended for a period of 18 months. In practical terms, a suspended sentence means that the prison sentence (3 months) hangs over you for the operational period (18 months). If you remain offence-free and comply with any requirements the court makes, you will never have to serve your sentence. If you reoffend, the presumption in law is that you will serve that prison sentence, additional to whatever sentence you receive for the new offence.

7. So what you’re saying is that Tommy Robinson was given a suspended sentence simply for trying to report on a case? Free speech is truly dead.

No, ye of little brain. He was found to be in contempt of court and given a suspended sentence because his actions put a serious criminal trial in jeopardy. Running around a court building shouting “paedophile” at defendants during a live trial, or live-streaming defendants and members of the public – potentially including jurors – entering and exiting a court building against a tub thumping narration of “Muslim paedophile gangs”, is hardly conducive to ensuring a fair trial. And if there can’t be a fair trial, nobody gets justice. Not the accused, not the complainants, not the public. This is not theoretical – serious criminal trials have nearly collapsed because of the actions of people like Yaxley-Lennon.

We have a quaint tradition in England and Wales that trial by media should be avoided, and that trial on evidence heard in court is the fairest way to determine a person’s guilt. Therefore while criminal courts are open to the public, and it is absolutely fine to report soberly and accurately about ongoing criminal trials, anything which might prejudice or intimidate the jury is strictly forbidden. And this makes sense. It would be a nonsense, for example, to have strict laws preventing individuals from walking up to a juror to say, “The defendant you are trying is plainly a dirty paedophile”, but to allow broadcasters or tabloid columnists to trumpet that message to jurors through the media. Self-defined “free-speech advocates” – particularly a number on the other side of the Atlantic – have difficulty understanding this, so it’s worth pasting in full what HHJ Norton said:

“This contempt hearing is not about free speech. This is not about freedom of the press. This is not about legitimate journalism; this is not about political correctness; this is not about whether one political viewpoint is right or another. It is about justice, and it is about ensuring that a trial can be carried out justly and fairly. It is about ensuring that a jury are not in any way inhibited from carrying out their important function. It is about being innocent until proven guilty. It is not about people prejudging a situation and going round to that court and publishing material, whether in print or online, referring to defendants as “Muslim paedophile rapists”. A legitimate journalist would not be able to do that and under the strict liability rule there would be no defence to publication in those terms. It is pejorative language which prejudges the case, and it is language and reporting – if reporting indeed is what it is – that could have had the effect of substantially derailing the trial. As I have already indicated, because of what I knew was going on I had to take avoiding action to make sure that the integrity of this trial was preserved, that justice was preserved and that the trial could continue to completion without people being intimidated into reaching conclusions about it, or into being affected by “irresponsible and inaccurate reporting”. If something of the nature of that which you put out on social media had been put into the mainstream press I would have been faced with applications from the defence advocates concerned, I have no doubt, to either say something specific to the jury, or worse, to abandon the trial and to start again. That is the kind of thing that actions such as these can and do have, and that is why you have been dealt with in the way in which you have and why I am dealing with this case with the seriousness which I am.”

8. How is all that relevant to what took place on 25 May 2018?

It is relevant because, when passing the suspended sentence, HHJ Norton gave some fairly clear warnings to Yaxley-Lennon:

“[Y]ou should be under no illusions that if you commit any further offence of any kind, and that would include, I would have thought, a further contempt of court by similar actions, then that sentence of three months would be activated, and that would be on top of anything else that you were given by any other court.

In short, Mr Yaxley-Lennon, turn up at another court, refer to people as “Muslim paedophiles, Muslim rapists” and so and so forth while trials are ongoing and before there has been a finding by a jury that that is what they are, and you will find yourself inside. Do you understand?“

And what did Yaxley-Lennon go and do?

9. What did he go and do?

As we know now, he went and committed a contempt of court by reporting on court proceedings. He did so in a way that expressed his “views” on the guilt or otherwise of the defendants, creating a substantial risk of serious prejudice to the proceedings by jurors seeing or becoming aware of his ill-informed ramblings. This could have led to an application by the defence advocates to discharge the jury and start afresh, potentially meaning vulnerable complainants having to go through the trauma of a trial all over again, or even an application to “stay” (bring to an end) the proceedings altogether.

Importantly, Yaxley-Lennon admitted that he was in contempt of court.

And he was committed to prison for 10 months, with the suspended sentence of 3 months activated and directed to run consecutively. Exactly as he’d been warned.

10. He was tried in secret on the day he was arrested, with no lawyers and the media were banned from reporting what had happened. This is Kafka on steroids, surely?

Contempt proceedings do not attract a jury trial. The procedure for a court dealing with a criminal contempt is set out in the Criminal Procedure Rules. These allow for a “summary procedure”, where the court, having made its own enquiries and offered a contemnor (for that is the official term) the chance to seek legal advice, can deal with the offender straight away. The Crown Court can commit a contemnor to prison for up to two years. There is nothing unusual in him being dealt with on the day of the contempt. Courts are required to deal with contempts as swiftly as possible. There is no suggestion of any prejudice; Yaxley-Lennon was legally represented by a barrister and would have received full legal advice.

He also wasn’t tried in secret; his contempt hearing was heard in public, with members of the press present. However, the judge imposed temporary reporting restrictions (under section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 again), postponing reporting of the details of Lennon’s contempt until the trial, and the subsequent related trial, had concluded. This, you may think, is for obvious reasons. A media circus and orchestrated attempt at martyrdom by Lennon and his deranged followers – as was indeed attempted when the restrictions were defied by far-right blogs and foreign news outlets – would present exactly the sort of distraction that threatened to disrupt the very serious criminal proceedings that the judge was desperately seeking to keep on the rails.

In the event, the repeated breaches of the order by foreign news outlets and social media users meant that the judge’s intentions were thwarted. An application to discharge the reporting restriction was made on 29 May 2018 and the judge agreed that, in light of what had happened over the Bank Holiday weekend, restrictions should be lifted to allow publication of the facts.

It is also worth noting that there is a Practice Direction dealing with situations where defendants are imprisoned for contempt of court. This requires that full judgments be published online and handed to the media where a person is committed to prison for contempt. As we can expect imminently.

As for the suggestion (by UKIP among others) that nobody has ever before been found in contempt of court and a postponement order made preventing the media from immediately reporting it, a handy example can be found on 22 May 2017, where one Stephen Yaxley-Lennon was found to be in contempt at Canterbury, and a postponement order was made restricting publication until the end of the substantive trial.


1285368.  Tue May 29, 2018 11:05 am Reply with quote

Thanks 'yorz - very interesting.

1285387.  Tue May 29, 2018 3:08 pm Reply with quote

'yorz wrote:
Yes it's long. So what?

A TLDR wouldn't have gone amiss.

Man breaks law that ensures fair trials, get suspended sentence. Man breaks those laws again, has to serve time now. Could only be reported when the trial was over for fair trial reasons.

At least now I understand why a load of racists have got upset on Facebook.

1285388.  Tue May 29, 2018 3:32 pm Reply with quote

*I* didn't find it TL:DR, so no reason for me to add that.

Here's a journalist's report on the whole thing. Plus the vile reactions from the bloodthirsty mob:

1285501.  Thu May 31, 2018 4:46 am Reply with quote

The part I find most shocking is that Tommy Robinson's real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, which I didn't know before.

Spud McLaren
1285502.  Thu May 31, 2018 4:49 am Reply with quote

He evidently felt that that sounded the wrong type of English. Or that Lennon sounded a bit like Lenin. Or something.

1285510.  Thu May 31, 2018 5:49 am Reply with quote

dr.bob wrote:
The part I find most shocking is that Tommy Robinson's real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, which I didn't know before.

He named himself after a Luton Town football hooligan who wrote a book - though I've also seen people posit that it is a reference to the "honest Tommy" and ... something about "Robinson" that I've forgotten. PR, basically.

He's also been known as Andrew McMaster and Paul Harris. Why he needs so many aliases I cannot say.

He also lived for 18 months at her majesty's pleasure back in 2014(?) for the let's face it pretty badass crime of ... mortgage fraud.

1285523.  Thu May 31, 2018 7:39 am Reply with quote

Mr Yaxley-Lennon now says that adopting the name Tommy Robinson was silly of him, and he shouldn't have done it. (Except that he wrote "shouldn't of", because that's what he's like.)

You might imagine that he thinks thus because the actual Tommy Robinson is also a nasty piece of work - but that's not the reason. Real Tommy, like Pretend Tommy, is from Luton, and was the leader of a football hooligan crew called the MIGs.

Pretend Tommy's uncle, also a Luton thug, fancied that job for himself. And the claim is that he suggested that Pretend Tommy adopt the name in the hope that confusion might result and lead to Real Tommy getting locked up. Or so Pretend Tommy claims, although - how should we put this - not everyone believes everything that Mr Y-L has said in interviews.

Andrew McMaster is a friend of Mr Y-L's who happens to look a bit like him. Mr Y-L admits that he borrowed Mr McMaster's passport in an attempt to get into the USA, which his criminal record would have prevented him doing in the usual way.

Mr Y-L also admits that he possesses a passport in the name of Paul Harris, and that he acquired that one himself rather than borrowing it off a real Paul Harris. How that came about, he won't say.

Mr Y-L's first appearance on broadcast media was apparently made under the name Wayne King. He claims that he thought it would be funny to hear Victoria Derbyshire introduce a guest whose name sounds a bit like a rude word. That's just what he's like.

Much of this is pilfered from an interview with Huffington Post. Be aware that there's quite a lot of swearing and racially offensive material in the interview, and that the interviewer fairly clearly doesn't believe quite a lot of what Mr Y-L says.

1285537.  Thu May 31, 2018 10:11 am Reply with quote

It seems that any discussion of this case causes people to become unable to follow a logical argument. I've been unable to discuss it with anyone without them either completely going off the rails about unrelated topics or thinking that I am disagreeing with them on every point when I didn't disagree with anything.

I can only assume that it's because most of the people discussing it are purely operating on emotion rather than reason.

1285583.  Thu May 31, 2018 6:07 pm Reply with quote

Hmm – what I find most interesting (and disturbing) about this is that this is the first I’ve heard of it. I’ll check tomorrow with others who are similarly afflicted with the “news, that’s the shit that I need to be aware of just enough to know the answers to quiz questions” attitude – ie pretty much everybody most of the time.

Admittedly, I’m not a social media person – but I do glance at the teletext headlines daily, and I’m usually vaguely aware of what passes for news.

I would have expected to see on the teletext pages (allowing for their brevity) something along the lines of

Controversial legal restrictions have been lifted on reporting that former EDL leader Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) has been imprisoned for 15 months for contempt of court.

Robinson had been broadcasting an internet strand entitled "Tommy Robinson in Canterbury exposing Muslim child rapists” and had been using film of unconvicted defendants in an ongoing rape trial.

Ordered by Justice HHJ Norton to stop the broadcasts to avoid prejudicing the (now concluded) trial with the words:

In short, Mr Yaxley-Lennon, turn up at another court, refer to people as “Muslim paedophiles, Muslim rapists” and so and so forth while trials are ongoing and before there has been a finding by a jury that that is what they are, and you will find yourself inside. Do you understand?

Robinson continued the broadcasts and was found in contempt of court.

When lifting the reporting restrictions, Justice Norton explained that it was necessary to add a restriction on reporting that Yaxley-Lennon had been imprisoned for contempt, as such reporting would be likely to draw more attention to the prejudicial reports already posted by Yaxley-Lennon on the internet.

I like cornixt’s brief summary too:

Man breaks law that ensures fair trials, get suspended sentence. Man breaks those laws again, has to serve time now. Could only be reported when the trial was over for fair trial reasons.

But that would need actual journalists I guess. And seeing the increasingly frequent buzzfeed type non-items on the teletext pages they don’t seem to have the budget to pay for that.

(Incidentally, I also heard a Radio 4 report yesterday which began with the words “This is a picture of….” – I’m all in favour of giving opportunities to all but throwing somebody into a radio reporter job who hasn’t yet grasped that pictures don’t come over the radio is just being cruel; either that, or a pernicious and deliberate attempt to sabotage an inclusive opportunities programme).

The important issue is who controls the narrative – and judging by the defensive nature of the article posted by ‘yorz, the prevailing control is in the Robinson camp.

1285649.  Fri Jun 01, 2018 7:51 am Reply with quote

In North London circles (which is not a million miles from Luton) this git has been mentioned various local papers, blogs, social media and talking circles, and it's because he's latched himself to the misery of others to claim there is a government and media cover up.

Unfortunately this has meant that people who have never before expressed any racist or xenophobic attitudes have found themselves cheering him and campaigning together with racists.

A typical example would be the unfortunate deaths of three young lads in Uxbridge. Because of ongoing legal proceedings and reporting restrictions, not much has been reported, and understandably some family and friends of the boys also feel aggrieved by the notion that the incident is being treated as an unfortunate accident rather than motivated homicide. I've seen before how verdicts of accidental deaths can be very upsetting to some people because they feel it suggests the person responsible is not being held fully accountable, even though that's not strictly the actual case.

I've spoken to a lady who is a friend of one of the boys' family when I discovered she was in London campaigning for Robinson to be released. She knew about his background, and she admitted she was uncomfortable with some of the people there and some of the things being said, but she went because she believed he was the only who was campaigning to get the truth about these boys' deaths revealed. There was no point in explaining to her that he was twisting the truth of why there were reporting restrictions and using them for his own advantage, she was upset enough as it is, but that's the problem of letting people like him get away with what some people see as a minor offence of contempt of court.

1285734.  Fri Jun 01, 2018 7:51 pm Reply with quote

I agree CB (as it seems do all other sensible people)

Which is why I think that at least a passing reference to the lifting of controversial reporting restrictions with an indication of the reasoning (designed for each appropriate audience) should have been a headline matter.

As I said neither I nor any of my acquaintances have seen this story appearing anywhere.

Spud McLaren
1285740.  Fri Jun 01, 2018 8:08 pm Reply with quote

Independent & Metro have run it online, bob. I don't know about print copy.

Edit: May have been "i" and Metro. Is there a difference?

1285743.  Fri Jun 01, 2018 8:15 pm Reply with quote

You know what would make the news (that is, the sort of thing that Phillip Schofield would put his serious face on for to introduce as a subject on "Wake Up Britain" or whatever it's called) -

a symbolic protest in SUPPORT of the imprisonment of Tommy Robinson

I mean - marches, sit-ins, demos of all kind protesting against something - that's old news (very 70's). They still happen but when do you get to hear of them?

But a similar event IN FAVOUR of something - now that's news.

The (so-called) left should stop organising to protest against the various incarnations of the National Front and should start organising it's celebration of when things go right - and let the idiots try to organise against THEM.

Spud McLaren
1285745.  Fri Jun 01, 2018 8:18 pm Reply with quote

I like that idea. Very much.

Only, a protest in support of something - isn't a protest, surely?

< ponders >

Last edited by Spud McLaren on Fri Jun 01, 2018 8:19 pm; edited 1 time in total


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