Tommy Robinson, the anti-Islam activist, has been freed on bail by the Court of Appeal which has quashed his contempt of court order and ordered a retrial. His supporters are crowing that this proves they were right all along.
No, it most certainly does not; quite the contrary. But their reaction shows that there is simply no evidence that will ever persuade a conspiracy theorist that he or she is wrong.
Let’s go through this, shall we.
Robinson (real name, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) was found to be in contempt of court in May this year over his behaviour at Leeds crown court where a trial was taking place. He was given a ten-month sentence, which was added to the three-month suspended sentence he had received for contempt of court the previous year in similar circumstances at Canterbury crown court.
The reaction to this by his fans, whipped up by by his supporters in America, was that the state had locked him up to stop him speaking the truth about Islamisation, that he had done nothing at all wrong, it was a kangaroo court, it was a secret court, he was a political prisoner treated as an enemy of the state, he had been jailed because the state wanted him murdered in prison, Britain was now under the rule of sharia law, and so on and imbecilically on.
The ruling by the Lord Chief Justice shows that every assumption made by Robinson’s supporters except for one was totally wrong.
The one they got right was that the Leeds judge did not follow correct procedures in dealing with Robinson at such speed – he was jailed within five hours of his arrest – which meant he had not been given the chance properly to defend himself.
No-one expected yesterday’s ruling because Robinson had admitted the contempt and apologised.
The Lord Chief Justice, however, was scathing about the Leeds judge’s behaviour and rightly so. This was not just a technicality but the absence of “procedural fairness”. Not good at all. But it’s also not unheard of. Sometimes judges screw up. Sometimes they jail someone too fast and then they get clobbered. Some years ago, a judge jailed a man for contempt of court too precipitately; he was subsequently overruled by the appeal court and criticised; the man was so enraged by his wrongful imprisonment that he actually pelted the judge with eggs.
So it happens. Of course, this does not dent by one iota the absolute certainty among Robinson’s supporters that the Leeds judge had set out to silence Robinson for political reasons.
Yet the Lord Chief Justice said this:
We recognise that the judge was placed in an invidious position because he was concerned about the integrity of the trial which was almost at its end. The three trials of which this was then second were exceptionally difficult and sensitive. Having decided to suspend the deliberations of the jury, it is understandable that he may have felt under some pressure to resolve the issue of the appellant’s contempt expeditiously. However, once it had become apparent that the appellant was cooperating in removing the video from the internet there was no reason why the jury could not have been permitted ton resume their deliberations. If there was any doubt about the intentions of the appellant, the judge could have sought an undertaking from or ordered, the appellant not to comment further on the trial or approach the court until the trial (or trials) had concluded.
Only someone with a mind totally closed to reason could read that and still claim that the judge jailed Robinson to silence him for political reasons.
Since reporting restrictions are still in operation over all this, what Robinson actually did at Leeds crown court cannot be reported other than what was in yesterday’s ruling.
This said he recorded a video of himself outside the court building which he live-streamed on Facebook. The recording, which lasted for about an hour and a half, concerned a trial which was covered by an order prohibiting the publication of any report of the proceedings until after the conclusion of that trial and of a related trial which was yet to take place (my emphasis).
In his video, however, Robinson referred to the trial, the identity of the defendants, the charges against them and charges which had not been proceeded with against some of them. He had confronted some of the defendants as they arrived at court.
When the judge started proceedings against Robinson for contempt of court, he explained to him that the judge
… was conducting the second of three trials involving a total of 28 Asian men, with the third expected to start in September. He had made an order “prohibiting the publication of anything relating to these trials”. During his live-streaming [Robinson] had referred to the supposed religion of the defendants, the ethnicity of the alleged victims, the costs of the prosecutions and questioned why publication was prohibited. The judge said he considered it a seriously aggravating factor that the appellant was encouraging others to share the video. “So that is the nature of the contempt”, he said.
What Robinson’s crowing supporters are not saying, moreover, is that his lawyers had wanted his conviction thrown out altogether without a retrial. The appeal court refused, saying “the alleged contempt was serious and the sentence might be longer than that already served.”
What his supporters are also not saying is that the appeal court threw out his appeal against his contempt finding at Canterbury court. Let’s look at what he did, in the words of yesterday’s ruling, to produce that finding of contempt and suspended jail sentence last year.
During the trial of four defendants for rape, he filmed two pieces to camera on the steps of the court and in the court building in which he described the trial being of “Muslim child rapists” . He published this footage on the internet. Upon learning he intended to film the defendants, the court escorted them out by another exit; whereupon Robinson referred in his recording to “going round their house” to film them there.
Notices around the court said filming or taking photographs amounted to an offence and might amount to contempt of court. Robinson had been told to stop filming and that if he continued he might be committing a contempt of court.
In the subsequent proceedings against him, the judge told him this was not about free speech, legitimate journalism or political viewpoints but merely about “ensuring that a trial could be carried out justly and fairly”. He had used “pejorative language” in his broadcast which prejudged the outcome of the case and could have had the effect of substantially derailing the trial. If he were to embark upon similar conduct in future “it was likely that he would face immediate custody”.
Since he was judged yesterday to have been properly held in contempt and sentenced after potentially compromising the Canterbury trial, on what grounds do his supporters continue to claim that his jailing for a similar offence this year showed the state was trying to silence his political views?
Oh — and guess what. The state hadn’t “sentenced him to death”. It held him in solitary confinement to protect his safety. And Britain is not under sharia law; the courts have continued to uphold the rule of English law by addressing a serious procedural error, as from time to time they habitually do.
Moreover, Robinson’s claim to be the one person in Britain telling the truth about Islamisation is nonsensical. I was drawing attention to Islamisation, and to the government’s refusal to address it properly, years before Robinson was ever heard of. Yes, it’s true that this most serious problem continues and that the state is still largely in denial. Yes, it’s true that, appallingly, the Pakistani Muslim rape grooming gangs were ignored for years. But they were exposed by my Times colleague Andrew Norfolk; and trial after trial has been bringing them to justice ever since.
In May, I wrote this on my blog:
For the reason Yaxley-Lennon was locked up was nothing to do with free speech or the nature of his political views. It had everything to do instead with defending the rule of law and the principle of a fair trial.
In my Times column last month, I wrote this:
In America, one incendiary article after another has claimed Britain is now a fascist state ruled by Sharia law. Every aspect of due process has been misrepresented as a fascist conspiracy to silence Robinson and even to have him murdered. He is said to have been jailed because he has spoken out against Islamisation. Untrue: he was jailed because he twice committed contempt of court, risking a trial being stopped altogether.
It’s said that the length of his sentence was wholly disproportionate. Given the seriousness of his repeated offence, it was in fact wholly unremarkable.It’s said that the discrepancy between his arrest for breach of the peace and his jailing for contempt of court proves the arbitrary nature of his jailing. In fact, it’s common for the police to make an arrest on those grounds while the actual charge turns out to be different. Moreover, Robinson actually admitted contempt of court.
It’s said he was tried in secret. This is tendentious distortion. The judge’s own ruling couldn’t be fully reported for the very same reason that what Robinson said and did still cannot be reported: the strict rules governing what can and cannot be said about live criminal proceedings.
It’s said that, since some Islamist extremists are still at liberty to spout off while Robinson has been jailed, this proves the law has been corrupted to silence him. The attempted connection is risible. Britain can legitimately be criticised for being too lax towards Islamist extremists. But that has nothing to do with jailing someone for a clear and admitted contempt of court.
It has even been claimed that Robinson, who was previously attacked in prison, was jailed in order that he should be killed. In fact, he has mostly been kept in solitary confinement for his own protection.
All these facts and more have been brushed aside. Robinson is being presented as a martyr to free speech and his jailing has been turned into an international cause célèbre.
Everything I wrote about all this was true. And yet Robinson is even now still being misleadingly supported by people who should know better, who are still claiming “kangaroo court”, “secret trial” and all the rest of the rubbish, as well as (after yesterday’s judgment) “vindication” and “victory”. Their arrogance is even greater than their ignorance of the English legal system and their consequent utter inability even to understand the words of a judge’s ruling.
The current climate of ignorance, gullibility and unreason is even worse than anyone could ever have imagined.