Far-right agitator Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, commonly known as Tommy Robinson, has been found guilty of libelling a teenage Syrian refugee and will have to pay £100,000 in damages, as well as legal costs.
Jamal Hijazi was resettled in the UK after fleeing Homs in Syria as a refugee from the civil war. He was filmed being bullied at his school in Huddersfield, northern England, in October of 2018 when he was 15 years old. The video showed Hijazi being throttled and thrown to the ground by another pupil, who is then seen pouring a bottle of water over his face. The video went viral and was widely covered as a story of an innocent child escaping war in Syria, only to be bullied in the UK.
Tommy Robinson, founder of the far-right English Defence League (EDL), broadcasted two videos on Facebook live, viewed by nearly a million people, in which he claimed that Hijazi was “not innocent and he violently attacks young English girls in his school”.
The judge, Mr Justice Nicklin, said that the language Robinson used in the videos was “calculated to inflame the situation.”
“As was entirely predictable, the claimant then became the target of abuse, which ultimately led to him and his family having to leave their home, and the claimant to have to abandon his education,” he continued.
“The defendant is responsible for this harm, some of the scars of which – particularly the impact on the claimant’s education – are likely to last for many years, if not a lifetime.”
Catrin Evans QC, representing the Hijazi family, told the court that Robinson’s comments “turned Jamal into the aggressor, and the bully into a righteous white knight”. Robinson only “waded into” the incident because of his “anti-Muslim” agenda, she said. The family say they received death threats and had to move house because of the comments.
Robinson defended himself in court by claiming to be an independent journalist, saying his comments were substantially true. Robinson told the court that he had secretly recorded conversations with school staff to gather evidence for his defence. However, the judge said that Robinson “took on the burden of proving his allegations to be true. He has failed. In reality… his evidence fell woefully short.”
Not only did Robinson persist with the allegations in court, the judge said, he “even added to them during the proceedings”.
Following the ruling, Robinson posted a video of himself to his Telegram account, asking, “Can anyone lend me a few quid?” The video was captioned “I’m a bit broke right now”.
Robinson founded the far-right English Defence League (EDL) in 2009. He led the Islamophobic organisation from then until 2013. He later resurfaced as a public figure in his own right, working for Rebel Media, a hard-right Canadian YouTube channel. Robinson’s status as a major player on the UK far-right has been on the wane in recent years, as his social media accounts have been suspended and he has alienated political allies.
This is not the first time Robinson’s brief career as a supposed journalist has landed him in trouble. In 2018 he was imprisoned for contempt of court. He was found guilty after nearly collapsing the trial of a grooming gang by livestreaming outside of Leeds Crown Court. The conviction was quashed at the court of appeal, but he was later re-convicted for the same offence.
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