Even though his footprint on modern culture and society, there’s barely a week goes by where Tommy Robinson doesn’t find himself in the news.
Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is what we might loosely term an ‘activist’, somebody who is attempting to spread his anti-Islamic rhetoric as far and as wide as possible.
In fairness, there are political parties out there that are desperate for the levels of devotion that Robinson’s followers afford him. That’s perhaps why he has also been retained as an ‘advisor’ to UKIP, even though his own political aspirations faded with the dissolvement of his own English Defence League.
The 36-year-old has been up in the courts this week accused of contempt of court after he became embroiled in a child grooming case back in May 2018. He was found guilty and sentenced to nine months in prison.
What is Contempt of Court?
It’s a complex law, but it’s one designed to give defendants in court cases a fair trial, amongst other things. The idea is that a jury’s decision when weighing up their decisions should be based on evidence heard in court alone, rather than any external factors.
For a light-hearted explanation of contempt of court, watch the episode of Peep Show where Jeremy – on jury duty – falls in love with the defendant.
In presiding over Robinson’s prosecution, two Old Bailey judges gave their verdict that he had compromised the integrity of the child grooming case at Leeds Crown Court, and that his Facebook Live videos featuring the defendants – against their wishes – had encouraged ‘vigilante action’.
That case, which featured a number of Asian men accused of being part of a sex grooming gang, had several reporting restrictions put in place to help protect the anonymity of the victims as well upholding the passage of justice. This was a complex case, where 29 defendants were being tried.
Robinson – whether in his own mind he thought what he was doing was okay – filmed the action outside the court house each day and live streamed it to his social media, identifying the defendants to more than 250,000 people that had viewed the video. At the time, the jury were still considering their verdicts.
Realistically he didn’t have a leg to stand on from a legal perspective, and his followers’ misunderstanding that Robinson is some kind of a pariah – when in fact, he compromised the integrity of an extremely important court case and as such was banged to rights – is to his own detriment.
A mob threw cans and bottles at a police line outside the Old Bailey where Robinson was tried, chanting ‘we want Tommy out’ as they marched towards the court.
This is not the first time that Robinson has been in trouble with the law, of course.
The far-right activist has been on the fringes for a number of years, from his membership of the BNP and the EDL to his help in the development of a British wing of PEGIDA, a German organisation whose acronym stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West.
That makes him a target, both for law enforcement officials and members of the public that don’t share his views, and he has on occasion been abused verbally and physically – who can forget when he was doused with a milkshake by a dissenter.
Before you get the violin out it’s worth remembering that Yaxley-Lennon is no angel himself. He has several criminal convictions on his record and has served three prison sentences – and not all for contempt of court.
He has been charged with violent offences – associated largely to his time as a football hooligan supporting Luton Town FC, financial fraud, using a fake passport to travel to the USA, drug possession and public order breaches, and the phrase ‘people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ springs to mind as he embarks on his next anti-Islam crusade.
Whatever you think of Tommy Robinson the man, he deserves the opportunity to be Tommy Robinson the public speaker, because once we take freedom of speech away from people we devolve about 100 years or so to a time when the Nazis quite fancied the idea of taking such liberties away from people.
He can have his anti-Islamic views – it’s up to you whether you agree with him or not – but what he cannot do is continue to destroy the basic premises of a fair trial in the British legal system.
Hopefully he has learned his lesson: keep the courts out of your extremist crusade.