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July 5, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:01am

Tommy Robinson found guilty of contempt of court for filming defendants in criminal trial

By PA Mediapoint

Tommy Robinson faces jail after being found in contempt of court by High Court judges for filming defendants in a criminal trial and broadcasting the footage on social media.

Two senior judges found the former English Defence League leader, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was in contempt when he filmed defendants accused of the sexual exploitation of young girls and live-streamed the footage, in breach of a reporting ban, outside Leeds Crown Court in May 2018.

Robinson denied any wrongdoing, saying he did not believe he was breaching reporting restrictions and only referred to information that was already in the public domain.

But Dame Victoria Sharp, sitting at the Old Bailey with Mr Justice Warby, found him in contempt in three respects.

She said he breached the reporting restriction imposed on the trial, by livestreaming the video from outside the public entrance to the court and by “aggressively confronting and filming” some of the defendants.

The judge said the content of the video “gave rise to a substantial risk that the course of justice in that case would be seriously impeded” and the confrontation of the defendants was a direct interference with the course of justice.

She added: “In our judgment, the respondent’s conduct in each of those respects amounted to a serious interference with the administration of justice.”

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Robinson showed little reaction as the judge announced the decision but there was anger from his supporters in the street outside court as the verdict filtered through.

A small number marched purposefully towards the front of the court entrance, to barriers sectioning off police from the public.

The crowd, as one, then began chanting “shame on you” and pointed at the court.

Beer cans were also hurled at journalists.

Dame Victoria said the court will consider what penalty to impose for the contempt, with a provisional date of 11 July given, with full reasons for the decision to come next week.

Robinson broadcast the footage on 25 May last year while the jury in the second of a series of linked grooming trials was considering its verdict.

A reporting restriction was in place which postponed the publication of any details of the case until the end of all the trials involving 29 people, in a bid to ensure all defendants received a fair trial.

The 36-year-old, from Luton, Bedfordshire, was jailed for 13 months after being found in contempt of court on the day of the broadcast.

The video lasted 90 minutes and was viewed online 250,000 times after being live-streamed on Facebook.

He served two months in jail before being freed after that finding of contempt was overturned by the Court of Appeal in August 2018.

But the case was then referred back to the Attorney General, who announced in March that it was in the public interest to bring fresh proceedings against Robinson.

Dame Victoria and Mr Justice Warby gave permission for the Attorney General to bring a new case against Robinson at a hearing in May.

Contempt of court carries a maximum sentence of two years.

In his closing submission to the court, Andrew Caldecott QC, for the Attorney General, said: “It is to be borne in mind… the wider potential effect if this conduct is acceptable.

“If Mr Yaxley-Lennon can do it, his followers can do it and indeed any aggrieved citizen can do it – and, moreover, it is Mr Yaxley-Lennon’s position that they should be doing it.

“It is to be borne in mind that the administration of justice is itself part of the wider principle of the rule of law.

“The Attorney General submits that, if the administration of justice suffers undue disturbance, public confidence in the rule of law itself ultimately would be undermined.”

Richard Furlong, representing Robinson, had argued that the standard of behaviour amounting to strict liability contempt “should not vary depending on the extent to which the individual journalist holds controversial political opinions”.

Speaking after the hearing, the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said: “Posting material online that breaches reporting restrictions or risks prejudicing legal proceedings is a very serious matter and this is reflected in the court’s decision today.

“I would urge everyone to think carefully about whether their social media posts could amount to contempt of court.”

Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

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