Tommy Robinson faces being sent back to jail after being found in contempt of court by High Court judges for filming defendants in a criminal trial and broadcasting the footage on social media
Tommy Robinson could be sent back to jail after he was again found in contempt of court today.
Robinson 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.
As news of the judges’ ruling trickled through, a group of his supporters ran at barriers sectioning off police from the public, throwing missiles and chanting ‘shame on you’.
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.
Robinson climbed up on a makeshift stage to speak after leaving court this afternoon
A gang of Robinson’s supporters shouted and chanted outside court following the verdict
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.
Footage from a nearby office block showed Robinson’s supporters throwing missiles at police
Police drew their battons as missiles and beer cans were thrown at them by Robinson’s fans
Parking warden gives Tommy Robinson ‘battle bus’ a ticket
Earlier today, a battle bus belonging to Robinson’s supporters was given a parking ticket as he appeared at the Old Bailey.
The red double-decker, which features a large screen showing pro Robinson films, was slapped with a penalty notice outside the central
Crowds booed as the traffic warden slapped a parking ticket onto the window of the bus, which was turned into a makeshift stage by Robinson’s supporters.
The warden explained that the parking fine was £130, reduced to £65 if paid quickly.
The parking warden who slapped the ticket on the buses windscreen was heckled by Robinson’s group of fans, with some shouting ‘jobsworth!’
As he walked off, he joked that he ‘loves his job’.
The red double-decker, which features a large screen showing pro Robinson films, was slapped with a penalty notice outside the central London court building.
The warden explained that the parking fine was £130, reduced to £65 if paid quickly
Robinson arrived as the court to chants of ‘Oh Tommy, Tommy’ from his supporters, including a bare-chested man in a Donald Trump mask drinking a can of beer.
Why Tommy Robinson was previously found in contempt of court and what it means
Why was Tommy Robinson jailed in May 2018?
Robinson was jailed after a judge at Leeds Crown Court found him in contempt of court in May.
The judge determined that Robinson’s broadcasting of a video online breached a court order which postponed any reporting of a trial until the conclusion of another, linked, trial.
He was jailed within five hours of the video being filmed and posted online.
He was previously given a suspended sentence for contempt at Canterbury Crown Court, when a judge told him it was likely he would go to prison if he engaged in similar conduct in future.
What is contempt of court?
Contempt of court law exists to ensure the fairness and integrity of criminal trials.
Where a judge believes there is a ‘substantial risk of serious prejudice’ to a defendant, an order may be made under the Contempt of Court Act which postpones the reporting of a trial until its conclusion.
When making such an order, a judge has to balance the interests of justice in a fair trial taking place with other interests – including free speech and open justice.
In most cases where someone is alleged to be in contempt of court, the matter will be referred to the Attorney General.
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.
Tommy Robinson takes selfies with fans as he arrives at the Old Bailey in London for a committal hearing for alleged contempt of court
Timeline of the Tommy Robinson contempt of court case
May 25, 2018: Robinson is jailed for 13 months for contempt of court after Facebook Live protest outside a trial in Leeds.
May 27, 2018: Sentence sparks protests in London including outside Downing Street.
July 18, 2018: Robinson launches appeal.
August 1, 2018: Judges order his release and say he must face new hearing.
September 27, 2018: A new contempt of court case at the Old Bailey is adjourned after Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC asks for written submissions from all parties.
October 19, 2018: The Huddersfield grooming case is fully reported after the conclusion of all the trials.
October 23, 2018: After considering submissions, judge says case is ‘too complex’ and evidence must be considered by Attorney General.
March 7, 2019: Attorney General decides the case should be reheard.
May 14, 2019: High Court judges rule he will face new contempt of court proceedings
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.’
Tommy Robinson supporters were allowed to set up a stage outside court yesterday. The bus can be seen behind
What was the case Robinson was jailed over?
Robinson was arrested in May last year outside one of a series of trials of a grooming gang who molested 15 victims, some as young as 11, in Huddersfield.
As with similar cases in a string of British towns and cities, the gang plied their victims – some of whom were as young as 11 – with alcohol or drugged them before carrying out horrific sex attacks.
The abuse, which centred in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, took place ‘in cars, car parks, houses, a snooker centre, a takeaway, a park and other places’, the court heard.
Some of the Huddersfield gang in the case which Robinson filmed outside
At least one of the victims attempted suicide and another had to have an abortion after becoming pregnant,
At the time of Robinson’s video, reporting of the trial was restricted, over fears juries in separate cases of the gang could be unfairly influenced by hearing claims not used in evidence.
Full reporting of the case was however allowed in October last year, when 20 members of the gang were jailed for a total of more than 220 years.
Robinson’s footage was filmed during the trial of four men linked to the grooming gang, who were later convicted of gang-raping a teenage girl.
Robinson was given a 13-month jail term by Judge Geoffrey Marson QC in May, but was released from HMP Onley in Rugby on August 1 after successfully challenging the contempt of court ruling.
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.
Tommy Robinson supporters were allowed to set up a stage outside court. Robinson addressing the crowds outside the court yesterday
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.