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.