In conversation with Tommy Robinson

Tommy Robinson carried a prison bag into London’s famous Old Bailey courthouse last week, expecting he’d be headed to jail after a contempt of court hearing.

That hearing never happened. The judge instead referred the case to the attorney general, which Robinson and his legal team had wanted all along. It was passionate personal statement from Robinson that swayed the judge.

This may be the end of the road for Robinson’s legal trials, but it won’t be for Robinson himself, who is still on a mission to expose the rape and grooming gangs that have popped up around the United Kingdom and Europe.

When I left Canada for the England, I wrote here that my coverage for the True North Initiative was for two purposes: I wanted to cover the case in a way the mainstream press has proven itself unable to, and also to get to the bottom of who and what Robinson really is.

The night before his court appearance, I sat down with Robinson one-on-one to talk about his legal ordeal, and more pointedly whether his beliefs align with how the media characterize them.

These interviews are only possible by your support, so please do consider becoming a member of the True North Initiative, to get exclusive access to content like this before it’s made public, and also some extra goodies.

I overheard how reporters talk about Tommy Robinson

Before he walked into the Old Bailey for what was supposed to be a contempt of court hearing, Tommy Robinson said the media were the “enemy of the people.”

It was a line that got uproarious applause from the growing crowd of supporters.

I was inside at the time, with a front row seat to how some members of the press talk about Robinson when they think everyone agrees with them.

To be clear, and as I wrote Sunday, my working visit to the United Kingdom this week is out of a commitment to facts and fairness, not a support for Tommy Robinson. That open-mindedness wasn’t shared by at least two members of the media covering the case.

While I was preparing my own coverage before the judge’s arrival, two reporters were conversing behind me.

Both reporters—a man and a woman—were from the Press Association (PA), a British wire service. They aren’t columnists, but news reporters whose work fills the pages of publications across the United Kingdom.

I would normally not share details of private conservations—especially those in which I was not a part. In this case, the conversation was taking place surrounded by people, with no attempt to be discrete. The reporters just assumed everyone around them shared their worldview.

They mocked and chuckled at the “enemy of the people” comment, even asking a couple of arriving journalists from other outlets if they knew they were enemies of Britons.

Over the next few minutes, the bias became even more apparent.

The male reporter had seen commentator Ezra Levant outside and remarked to his colleague that Levant had apparently broken an unspecified law.

“He needs to be arrested,” he said in a markedly non-jovial tone. “He’s whipped up hate.”

The reporter didn’t extrapolate and his colleague didn’t respond.

Moments later, the female reporter said there was no ambiguity about Robinson’s guilt.

“He is in contempt of court,” she said. “There’s not really any doubt.”

Of course, when the presiding judge made the decision to refer the case to the attorney general, it was because he thought there actually was enough doubt and complexity to warrant a fuller hearing.

As the two reporters discussed the size of the crowd outside, they openly agreed to downplay it.

One of the reporters had been told by a member of the law enforcement team that there were at that point 1,500 people outside.

After some banter, the PA reporters agreed they would say “hundreds.” The reason was to not “give it credit,” the female said.

These quotes are direct and were transcribed either while they were being uttered or seconds later. They also didn’t come to be secondhand—I heard them myself.

A Press Association spokesperson said they are “inaccurate” and “misheard.”

“The Press Association is held to the highest standards on all aspects of its journalism by customers across the UK and the world.  Fairness and accuracy are the cornerstones of PA reporting, and our coverage of the Tommy Robinson case today is another example of these standards,” it said. “We decline to comment further on inaccurate and misleading accusations based on fragments of misheard, private conversations.”

Members of the media aren’t allowed to record court proceedings, so all I have to go on is my word. But a recording does exist. The courtroom’s official recording device had been turned on, so I will be working to get a copy of that audio.

There was a lot of hostility towards the media at the rally. One man, thinking I was a mainstream media reporter, dumped a bottle of water on me (and my laptop bag) while calling me “scum.” There’s no excuse for that conduct, regardless of intended target.

When I was filming the rally after the court appearance, one of the speakers (with whom I had shared my Press Association story) handed me the microphone and asked me to share it with the crowd.

Having never turned down a microphone in my life, I read the quotes to the attendees, who chanted about their disgust with the media. Some were downright nasty. While I understand the frustration, I don’t like painting an industry with one brush. Those who are letting their agendas get in the way of their coverage need to do better.

As a columnist, bias doesn’t faze me. Bias masquerading as journalism does.

Planned contempt of court statement by Tommy Robinson

Against the advice of his former lawyers, Tommy Robinson planned to give the following statement during his contempt of court hearing today. The statement was provided to the judge yesterday, which the judge, The Recorder of London, Nicholas Hilliard, QC, cited as playing a significant role in his decision to not hear the case today.

I am the defendant in these contempt proceedings, and the Court has served me with two allegations of contempt against me. This is one more than I faced in the Crown Court at Leeds.

In relation to the first allegation, breaching the order of the court, which requires as I understand it an intention to interfere with the administration of justice, I would like to say this.

Firstly, I would like to assure the court that undermining the court’s authority or interfering with the administration of justice was never my intention. I believed I acted in good faith within the parameters of the section 4 reporting restriction in place. The information I provided was in the public domain, factual and relevant but did not provide any details of the trial proceedings other than what had already been reported previously and was readily available online. I rely on the documents in my bundle as examples of what had previously been reported.

When I arrived at Leeds Crown Court that morning I could not obtain any specific details of the reporting restriction order. I do not believe there is a website which holds such details, so I researched online and reviewed the reporting restriction guidelines provided.  They state that the court should include details of reporting restrictions on the court listings both online and in court and also provide a notice on the door of the court.  My solicitors have photographic evidence to show that the court did not follow these guidelines that day and had no details listed anywhere of a reporting restriction for that case. This is also in the bundle. The only time the notification about reporting restrictions was available was later that afternoon after the Court had convicted me and sent me to prison.  Only then did the Court follow the guidelines and list a reporting restriction against the court listings for both the grooming case and my subsequent case.

After my previous experience with contempt of court in Canterbury I went out of my way to ensure I would not fall foul of the law again. I privately paid for training with one of London’s leading law firms, Kingsley Napley, to cover all details regarding contempt of court.  There is documentation in relation to this in my bundle.

On that morning at Leeds Crown Court I had knowledge of the verdicts of the first phase of this grooming trial and many of the specific details discussed in court for this particular trial. I did not talk about these in my livestream on that day.  I had understood based on my training that the specifics of the case and the verdicts were off limits for reporting restrictions.

Having been unable to obtain any details from the court on the conditions of the reporting restriction I decided to review the guidelines for reporting restrictions. On the Judiciary’s website there is a practical guide aimed at judges and the media on the statutory and common law principles that should be applied with regards to reporting restrictions.  The paper was called ‘Reporting Restrictions in the Criminal Courts April 2015 (Revised May 2016)’.  In this paper it stated that Courts have no power under s.4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 to prevent publication of material that is already in the public domain (see page 27 of this document).

I followed my training and this guidance to the letter. I did not divulge any of the previous case verdicts, did not detail any specifics mentioned in the trial, did not assume guilt and refrained from entering court property.  I even asked the officer outside the court where the court boundaries were and that I was ok to film where I was to which he confirmed.

I also followed that guidance document issued on the Judiciary website informing me that I could only reference information that was already in the public domain. Every single thing I said that day was already in the public domain.  I actually read charges and names of the defendants from a BBC article which to this day is still live on their website.  I also made sure not to film anyone other than the defendants, I was calm and respectful throughout.

It is my understanding that there is no individual in the last 60 years that has been sentenced to prison for a publication breach of a reporting order.  It would appear to me that my punishment is exceptional.  I would ask that I am treated in the same manner as every other journalist who has been charged with these allegations. The journalist Rod Liddle was writing for the Spectator magazine in relation to the Stephen Lawrence murder trial, and when he was sentenced for breaching the section 4 order, and risking prejudice to the trial, was given a fine.  Journalists at the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror published highly prejudicial material on the trail of Levi Bellfield who abducted and murdered an 11-year-old child.  This contempt of court led to the collapse of the entire case and discharge of the jury and robbed one of his victims of the chance for justice.  The reporters in this instance were not prosecuted and instead their employers were found guilty of contempt and fined £10,000.

I have reviewed the transcripts from Leeds Crown Court where the Judge was discussing various reporting order breaches.  The judge and the CPS discuss the fact that multiple news sources breached the very same order placed on my trial with some breaching both the reporting orders by mentioning the grooming trial as well as my arrest and prison term.  Lizzie Dearden the home affairs correspondent at the Independent actually refused to remove the article when provided with the order stating that the effect of social media voids reporting restrictions, so she could not be held in contempt of court.  The CPS and the judge agreed that these breaches of the order were a matter for the Attorney General to review.

When I was informed of the blanket order, I offered to delete my video immediately. Despite the multiple breaches of the order by different newspapers that weekend and the flat refusal of Lizzie Dearden to take her article down, not one of those journalists or the editors of those publications, were ever arrested or prosecuted for s.4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act.

According to the court transcript the newspaper breaches of the reporting order was a matter for the Attorney General.  My case was not referred to the Attorney General for review and instead I was hauled into court immediately, refused my own choice of legal representation, prosecuted, and convicted in a matter of minutes in what the Court of Appeal regarded as a flawed trial.  I was then imprisoned for over 2.5 months in solitary confinement until I won the appeal.  I was held against my categorisation, moved to the highest Muslim population Cat C prison, subjected to mental torture and constant threats and abuse and had all of my rights removed in the interest of prison safety.

It is clear to me that my continued prosecution and heavy-handed tactics from the state is because of ‘who I am’ rather than ‘what I did’.

In relation to the second allegation, the strict liability allegation, I would like to say this.

It is only since my original trial that there has been an additional charge added suggesting that the contents of my livestream were prejudicial to this case.  The case completed, the jury concluded, and the verdicts were given.  I would like to state clearly that in the transcript from the original trial the judge discussed my video with Mr Wright QC, prosecution counsel.  Having reviewed the content of my video Mr Wright stated in court: ‘There is nothing they could have seen that could in any way prejudice them against the defendants’. Judge Marson agreed on the record.

For this reason, (a) I cannot see why I should face two charges when the core of the allegation in front of Judge Marson was the breach of the section 4(2) order, other than because I am regarded as a political activist and the charges are motivated by my political activism, and (b) I do not accept that the material that was livestreamed  created either a real or substantial risk of prejudice to the Leeds proceedings. The prosecution counsel and the Judge both agreed on the court transcript that my live stream could not have prejudiced the jury.

Everything I reported that morning was fair and accurate and published in good faith within the constraints of the judiciary’s guidelines for the media.

I will address each point in the allegations drafted by the Advocate to the Court.

The first allegation is that I suggested the defendants were involved in wider criminal activity. This is not correct. I was referring to two reports, one on the radio and one in the Huddersfield Examiner which set out the allegations relating to the 29 individuals. I cannot find the original references but a similar report on the BBC relating to the allegations is in the defence bundle.

The second allegation is that stating that those of the same ethnicity and religion as the defendants were disproportionally likely to commit the crimes for which the defendants were being tried could prejudice the trial.

This statement is factually correct.  The Quilliam foundation who are a Muslim run anti extremism think tank have produced a research paper looking at convictions of this type 1 street grooming from 2005 – 2017. This is in the defence bundle. They found that 84% of all convictions were south Asian with the significant majority of those being Pakistani Muslim.  All of these victims were white children.

Sajid Javid the Home Secretary himself announced on BBC news this year that in these types of street grooming trials the individuals convicted are from a disproportionately Pakistani background.

Nazir Afzal is the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service in the north west of England and a lead prosecutor on child sexual abuse and he also publicly stated on Channel 4 News that Asians and Pakistanis in particular are disproportionately involved in this type of street grooming.  He also presented these facts in front of Parliament.

I merely stated factual insight into the ethnicity and religious make up of perpetrators of these types of crimes. I repeated publicly available research papers from the Quilliam Organisation, testimony from the former head of Crown Prosecution Service in the Northwest and a statement from the Home Secretary himself all three of which are in fact Pakistani Muslims themselves.

I do not accept that reporting facts on the ethnicity or the make-up of particular offender groups could be categorised as contempt of court given the number of grooming gang trials currently in progress across the United Kingdom and the commentary on those facts which are widely discussed in the media.

The third allegation is that highlighting as significant the sexual references of the abuse that I had elicited from the defendants could prejudice the trial.

I asked each of the defendants what their views were on their verdict they were expecting to hear that day. All 3 of them separately made aggressive vulgar sexual references or sexual threats against both my mother and my wife.  I did not ask the defendants to comment on their views of my wife and mother, they did this out of the blue.  Repeating what they actually said in the video has no relevance or prejudice on the trial itself.

The fourth allegation is that I made derogatory comments about the ethnic or religious backgrounds of the defendants.

I would like to point out I was not talking about the specific defendants on trial I was referring to reaction I had received by family and friends of previous convicted grooming gangs. By derogatory comments it appears to mean telling the truth that under Islamic law, the “age of consent” coincides with puberty. In Islam there is no set age for marriage. The Islamic Prophet Muhammad, who is said to serve as a role model for every Muslim, is reported by Sunni Hadith sources to have married Aisha when she was six or seven years old, with the marriage consummated when she was nine years old and he was 56 years old.  The prosecution may not like to hear the truth but there is no way that sharing the truth and facts about a particular religion on social media can lead to prejudice on a trial.

In relation to the fifth allegation, a number of the comments relied on were made by other people, and my comments related to grooming trials generally across the country rather than the particular case (e.g. the exchange at page 8 of the transcript of the livestream related to Rotherham, and Oxford). I made it clear throughout that the trial concerned allegations.

The nature and number of these ongoing trials, prosecutions and investigations is highly alarming and I believe it is in the public’s interest to hear the details and know of the complexities and connections amongst the previous prosecutions.

The future safety of vulnerable children at risk is my concern here not the perceived prejudice towards the defendants because of their ethnicity or religion. If 29 white Christian priests were on trial on such charges with reporting restrictions, I would feel exactly the same.

When I initially went to report on the Canterbury trial I did so in what I felt was the public interest.  The police had DNA evidence on all four of the now convicted child rapists, yet the decision was made to grant these individuals bail.  They were still running the same take away shop and coming into contact with young school children.  One of the defendants absconded to Afghanistan.   With DNA evidence on each of the now convicted child rapists it was my belief that they should have been remanded to prison until trial in order to protect vulnerable children in the surrounding area.  Instead the decision was made to release them back into the community on bail.

The same danger was placed on the children in case in question. The now convicted child gang rapists on trial in Leeds that day were also free to walk the streets on bail.  There were 18 different witness statements detailing the rape and torture of those children and yet the justice system decided that they did not pose a risk to the public and granted them bail.

Just like the Canterbury case one of these child rapists in the Leeds trial on also absconded before his verdict was reached.  I believe he has fled to Pakistan and according to the court transcripts he was last seen leaving his house with a large bag.  That is a convicted child rapist free to roam the streets because he was deemed no risk to the public and granted bail.

I have previously been charged with a non-violent offence, and I was remanded straight to prison to await trial.  At Leeds Crown Court in May this year, the police whisked me from the streets, I was subjected to a fundamentally flawed trial and then sent straight to prison inside 5 hours.   This is all whilst the very same system allows alleged child rapists with multiple prosecution witness statements and DNA evidence implicating them in the crime to continue to walk the streets.

The court has a duty to the victims and the public to protect them and telling them could help stop ongoing child sexual exploitation and maybe prevent future vulnerable children from falling victim to it.

Again I would like to reiterate that undermining the judge, the court, the proceedings, the supremacy of the law or the administration of justice was never my intention, but I truly believe the reporting restrictions on this trial and subsequent connected trials are detrimental to the public and should never have been imposed so the public could hear the details, and use the knowledge of the proceedings to help prevent further cases such as these coming before the courts.

The jurors are given a responsibility. They are aware of the consequences of researching the cases they sit on. It should be upon them and we should trust them to do the task with honesty and integrity; it should not be for the public to be kept purposely in the dark just in case they do not.

Tommy Robinson’s witness st… by on Scribd

Who is Tommy Robinson?

I write this from the departure lounge at Toronto Pearson International Airport, an hour before a flight to the United Kingdom where I’ll endeavor to answer that very question.

Is he an activist or a rabble-rouser? A martyr or a scofflaw? A freedom fighter or a hate monger?

More importantly, do any of these matter when it comes to the question of due process?

Robinson, the pseudonym of English Defense League founder Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, will once again be in court Tuesday, facing a contempt of court hearing at the legendary Old Bailey in London.

I’ll be there. Not as a cheerleader for Tommy, or for anyone for that matter. I’m going to London to get the facts, and cover a case with implications beyond Tommy, and beyond the United Kingdom.

At stake is whether Robinson knowingly and wilfully broke a publication ban when he hosted a 75-minute Facebook Live stream in May outside the Leeds Crown Court.

The stream took place as a number of young Muslim men were facing trial in a case involving allegations of mass sexual grooming and trafficking in Huddersfield. Robinson filmed men he thought were defendants heading into the courthouse and discussed public record facts of the case, as well as broader musings about Islam and immigration.

He wasn’t discussing the proceedings of the case, if for no other reason than he wasn’t even in the court to know what was happening.

Robinson was already on thin ice in the eyes of the justice system, however, having been found guilty of contempt in a separate (though eerily similar case) in Canterbury, for which he was given a suspended sentence of three months.

In the Leeds stream, he was very cautious, even referring to the case’s publication ban and confirming with his colleagues that he was staying within its parameters. Or so he thought.

The grooming trial judge not only had Robinson arrested, but also tried, convicted and sentenced. All in less than five hours. The judge didn’t even review the full video in the makeshift hearing.

So Robinson was off to prison with a 13-month sentence. Much of the time he spent behind bars was in solitary confinement. He was ultimately freed in August when a judge threw out the earlier contempt finding, arguing there were numerous errors in judgment and fact in the earlier judge’s decision.

On Tuesday, the court will host what is effectively a retrial of what happened so hastily back in May.

As an independent columnist, foreign junkets aren’t typically an option for me. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to cover this case thanks to a crowdfunding campaign by Ezra Levant and the Rebel.

There was only one condition with this grant—that I cover the trial. I’m not doing this on the Rebel’s behalf, and neither it nor Levant have any oversight of my coverage. This was an important stipulation for me, as Robinson used to work for the Rebel.

Levant admits he’s a fan of Tommy Robinson. I’m not approaching it from the same place. My interest in this case is because I’m a fan of due process.

In Robinson’s history I see decisions that can be characterized at best as lapses in judgement, or at worst something more grim. I disagree with many of his proclamations on Islam, in particular his belief that the religion is inherently a negative force.

He says lots of individual Muslims are good, peace-loving people, but that this is in spite of Islam, and never because of it. When I sit down with Robinson for an interview this week, this will be one of the points I challenge him on.

When it comes to the contempt of court charge, however, none of this matters. I could find him loathsome and disagreeable on every count (I don’t) and it wouldn’t take away my belief in his deservingness of due process.

Unfortunately, the British justice system and the British press have not extended such a courtesy. That’s why I’m covering this case for myself.

Robinson was subjected to a judicial witchhunt that has everything to do with what he believes and nothing to do with anything he actually did, let alone whether his actions threatened the integrity of a critical trial.

The importance of due process, fair trials, and the right to espouse the kinds of beliefs Robinson does are universal issues. They are not exclusive to the United Kingdom, which is why this case is one of global interest.

I’m taking a stand for freedom and fairness by covering this trial. While I’m there, I want to find out whether this livestreamer from Luton is as bad as the media says he is.