Last Friday, 25 May, there were two events in Britain which raise serious questions relating to free speech, dissent, due process of law, but also of who is actually committed to those concepts. One of these was the conviction of Alison Chabloz for holocaust denial, although holocaust denial is not yet a criminal offence in the UK – the judge has indicated that she is almost certainly facing a custodial sentence.
The other is the arrest of Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon.
Tommy Robinson is an activist heavily involved in exposing the Muslim grooming gangs in Britain. He also campaigns against extremist Islam, specifically violence, intimidation and support for terrorism by extremist Islamic groups, and the double standards relating to the treatment of Muslims versus non-Muslims. He is a strong supporter of the state of Israel. Although he insists that he is only targeting extremists, he conflates, or is seen to conflate, all Muslims, by using the term so freely, while many of those involved in grooming gangs have a different history to those responsible for terrorism.
Robinson’s concerns are seen as valid by a large section of England, even those who do not like his style – he has been termed a working class hero. He is also described as racist and a thug, and also a fraudster, Israeli agent, globalist.
Tommy Robinson was arrested while live streaming outside Leeds Crown Court. This is the most common clip of his arrest.
The events on Friday appear to be as follows:
Tommy Robinson was live streaming into his cell phone outside the courthouse in Leeds where a group of men were being tried for raping underage girls – they were allegedly part of a grooming gang. Robinson was already serving a suspended sentence of three months.
Robinson is left undisturbed by the police while he films and talks into his phone. However at a certain point the judge looks out the window and a few minutes later, police arrest him “on suspicion of breach of the peace”.
Inside the courthouse the charge is changed to contempt of court. Within a few hours, Robinson is convicted and sentenced to 13 months in prison.
The ban makes it difficult to verify the timing, but here is one breakdown:
A reporting ban is imposed, leading to a number of news outlets taking down their articles.
There are reports that Robinson’s lawyer was unable to get to the court in time, and Robinson was obliged to make do with a court lawyer, who knew nothing about his case, possibly knew little about contempt of court law, and possibly was not sympathetic.
Robinson’s friends and family are concerned for his life. An alternative scenario, however, is that he will spend 13 months in solitary confinement.
Based on the clip above, widely disseminated, a number of aspects of the case are open to question:
1) The change in charge – did the judge tell police to arrest someone without specifying the charge? Or did he order an arrest on the grounds of disorderly behaviour and then change tack once he realised the disorderly behaviour charge wouldn’t stick?
2) The speed of the trial.
3) The severity of the sentence – the three months was increased to 13
4) The ban on reporting (sometimes referred to as a D-notice).
However, the highlights in the clip above do not give a full picture of the events leading up to the arrest. According to the fuller version posted on facebook, Robinson was in front of the courthouse for an hour and a quarter, without any suggestion from the police that he move on.
As the accused arrive in court, Robinson calls out to them, “How do you feel about the verdict?, got your prison bags with your? any guilt?”.
Robinson lists the names of and charges against those going into court, and then at 3:30 states “One of these men is actually working in a chicken shop in Huddersfield [..] would you want your children going into a chicken shop where men are alleged to have gang raped, prostituted and trafficked and drugged young victims”. Most or all of the alleged perpetrators are said to be from Huddersfield, and their names were already in the public domain.
The live stream also show that Robinson checked with police about where he could stand in relation to the courthouse. It was agreed with the police that while he could not stand on the steps of the courthouse, he could stand in front of or near them.
So there are further issues:
5) Whether reporters calling out to accused as they go into court is acceptable and legal, and whether the disclosure of the information provided by Robinson, already in the public domain, constitutes contempt of court by prejudicing the trial.
6) Why did the police not warn Tommy Robinson that he was guilty of disorderly behaviour or in contempt of court?
There are also concerns over Robinson’s safety, given his high profile (or notoriety): one member of the House of Lords has threatened the Home Secretary with prosecution if Robinson is injured or killed in prison.
The response from those who involve themselves with alternative media in order, presumably, to find and disseminate the truth has been divided, as was to be expected. There is much outrage from those who are totally in tune with all that Robinson stands for, or those who share some of his views, for example on the failure of Britain to address the problem of grooming gangs.
Many of those who feel a strong antipathy towards Robinson cannot see beyond the reasons for that antipathy. The first response is to gratify that antipathy; the legalities and principles often come a poor second.
A good many people are confident that all due process was observed:
Questioning of the event has come from less obvious sources, such as the Spectator and Rob Liddle (both title and stub of the article have since been changed to “At last, a speedy police response”).
Several ex-police officers have posted statements giving their opinion that Tommy Robinson had not transgressed in anyway, such as this one.
Alex Christoforou and Alexander Mercouris posted a video of their discussion about the arrest. Mercouris make a reasonable fist of explaining Tommy Robinson’s appeal to a “large constituency in England”, though mistakenly assumes (3:05) that Robinson is still leader of the EDL (he left in 2013 citing concerns about right-wing extremism).
Mercouris echoes Liddle when he puts forward the view that
“he was arrested not because of anything he actually did, but because he was Tommy Robinson […]. I cannot see that anything that happened outside that courtroom justified it taking the action that was taken”.
Both Christoforou and Mercouris see the matter of the reporting ban as the most serious aspect:
[The reporting ban] “is even more worrying than the arrest itself, because when somebody is arrested in Britain, when somebody is threatened or placed in imprisonment, reporting of that fact ought to be in itself ought to be an important safeguard to ensure that there is no actual violation of due process, and that proper justice is being followed, because if it is not, then that is when things begin to go badly wrong, and abuses of the system happen […]. If there are things about him which justify what is being done to him, we should know more clearly what they are”. (Mercouris)
Christoforou and Mercouris discuss the influence of the deep state, and draw parallels between what is happening with Tommy Robinson and other events involving the British state, such as Julian Assange’s position and the Skripal affair, where there have been major violations of due process.
Several people have portrayed Robinson as an agent provocateur, a puppet of the government, or an Israeli agent. It is claimed that Robinson is working for dark forces in deliberately trying to create division, that he has exacerbated racial divisions and anger arising out of the grooming scandals in places like Rotherham, Telford and Huddersfield.
Mark Window, of the podcast Windows on the World, responded to the Tommy Robinson arrest by describing him in a series of tweets as a “state sponsored agent provocateur in court pantomime drama”, “This puppet and traitor to Britain” and “glove puppet agent provocateur”. Windows is implying that what happened outside the courthouse was actually a charade.
The idea that Robinson may have staged his arrest in collaboration with the UK or Israeli governments is of course far more interesting than the simple fact that he gives support to Israel (given that so many members of the UK and Scottish Parliaments, and of the British public, also strongly support Israel).
Assuming that Robinson, who has a wife and three children, was happy to go back to prison for at least three months, the arrest could in theory have been staged in order to create division, make Robinson a hero, or cause civil strife, possibly leading to draconian counter measures. One should also bear in mind that the Tommy Robinson arrest has completely overshadowed the conviction of Alison Chabloz for holocaust denial, which also happened on Friday.
However, even presupposing that the arrest were indeed a “charade”, if it can be shown that the process was illegitimate then the British authorities are still complicit in this abuse of process, and this should still be of interest to everyone, not just to Tommy Robinson’s supporters.
At the very least there remains the issue of the reporting ban – not only do people not know what is going on but, as with the Skripal case, they do not know why they are not allowed to know what is going on. As with the Skripal case, there is huge suspicion and anger at being kept in the dark. Common sense dictates that a statement showing exactly where Robinson transgressed and whether he pleaded guilty (which would explain the speedy hearing) must reduce tensions.
If the British are not prepared to demand accountability and freedom of information over situations such as the Skripal case or the Tommy Robinson arrest, it will only embolden the authorities and make accountability even harder to achieve in the future.