Tommy Robinson has lost a libel case brought against him by a Syrian schoolboy who was filmed being attacked at school.
The English Defence League founder – whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – was sued by Jamal Hijazi, who was assaulted in the playground at Almondbury Community School in Huddersfield in October 2018.
Shortly after the video of the incident went viral, Robinson claimed in two Facebook videos that Jamal was “not innocent and he violently attacks young English girls in his school”.
In the clips viewed by nearly 1m people, the 38-year-old also claimed Jamal “beat a girl black and blue” and “threatened to stab” another boy at his school, allegations the teenager denies.
Tommy Robinson libel loss costs
At a four-day trial in April, Jamal’s lawyers said that Robinson’s comments had “a devastating effect” on the schoolboy and his family who had come to the UK as refugees from Homs, Syria.
Robinson, who represented himself, argued his comments were substantially true, claiming to have “uncovered dozens of accounts of aggressive, abusive and deceitful behaviour” by Jamal.
However, in a judgment delivered on Thursday, Mr Justice Nicklin ruled in Jamal’s favour and granted him £100,000 in damages.
Robinson was also ordered to pay Jamal’s costs of bringing the libel claim. The total amount was not stated in court.
Robinson said he was “gobsmacked” by the costs Jamal’s lawyers were claiming, which he said included £70,000 for taking witness statements.
He added: “I’ve not got any money. I’m bankrupt. I’ve struggled hugely with my own issues these last 12 months… I ain’t got it.”
Mr Justice Nicklin acknowledged that “there are limits on what can be enforced against him” as a result of Robinson’s bankruptcy, but ruled that Robinson should pay Jamal’s legal costs nonetheless.
Tommy Robinson libel worsened ‘media frenzy’
In his judgment, Mr Justice Nicklin said Jamal suffered “particularly severe” consequences due to Robinson’s videos.
He said: “The defendant’s allegations against the claimant were very serious and were published widely. The defendant has admitted that their publication has caused serious harm to the claimant’s reputation.”
Discussing the media attention that was on the original viral video, he added: “The defendant’s contribution to this media frenzy was a deliberate effort to portray the claimant as being, far from an innocent victim, but in fact a violent aggressor.
“Worse, the language used in the first and second 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.
“The defendant is responsible for this harm, some of the scars of which, particularly the impact on the claimant’s education, are likely last for many years, if not a lifetime.”
Mr Justice Nicklin continued: “The defendant took on the burden of proving his allegations to be true. He has failed.
“In reality… his evidence fell woefully short. He has, however, persisted with the serious allegations he originally made, and has even added to them during the proceedings.
“The claimant has had to face them in the full glare and publicity of a High Court trial.
“It is my responsibility to make clear that the defendant has failed in his defence of truth, to vindicate the claimant and to award him a sum in damages that represents fair compensation. The sum I award is £100,000.”
Robinson led to death threats against teen
Catrin Evans QC, for Jamal, previously said that Robinson’s comments led to the teenager “facing death threats and extremist agitation” and that he should receive damages of between £150,000 and £190,000.
During the trial, Evans described Robinson as “a well-known extreme-right advocate” with an “anti-Muslim agenda” who used social media to spread his views.
She added that Robinson’s videos “turned Jamal into the aggressor and the bully into a righteous white knight”.
However, Robinson maintained he was an independent journalist during the trial, telling the court: “The media simply had zero interest in the other side of this story, the uncomfortable truth.”
Francesca Flood, from Burlingtons Legal which represented Jamal, said the firm was “delighted that Jamal has been entirely vindicated” and it had taken “great courage” for him to pursue the case against such a well-known figure.
Injunction against repeating allegations
At a brief hearing on Thursday, Mr Justice Nicklin granted Jamal Hijazi an injunction against Robinson preventing him from repeating the allegations.
The judge said he was initially not going to grant an injunction as he felt Jamal had not “demonstrated that, if I did not grant an injunction, that there was a risk of [Robinson] going on and publishing the allegations” again.
But Jamal’s lawyers said a video published by Robinson on social media this weekend – in which he said he was going to publish “the total evidence and proof” of what Jamal “was like” – meant an injunction was necessary.
Robinson said he had been commissioned to make a film about the incident which was “already made”, adding: “It’s left for the viewer to make their mind [up] on what’s happened.”
He told the judge that, by granting an injunction, “it will look like you are trying to prevent it (the film), but the film will go out in the United States anyway, so I don’t see the point”.
He argued that an injunction was not necessary and said: “I think there will be mass concern by the public that they are not being able to make their own minds up.”
‘Gagging order’ claim
Robinson also argued: “In my history, there has a been a long history of concern about people being silenced on issues.”
He said that “my phone is pinging off like hell now by journalists, by the media” and said an injunction, which he described as a “gagging order”, was “totally unnecessary”.
Mr Justice Nicklin told Robinson: “You can have absolutely no complaint that what has happened has been entirely above board and open and transparent.”
After the injunction was made, Robinson asked the judge if an interview with people who witnessed the incident at Jamal’s school might breach the order.
But Mr Justice Nicklin said: “Mr Lennon, I’m a judge, I’m not here to give advice to you.”
Picture: PA Wire/Victoria Jones
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog