Tommy Robinson freed on bail after winning legal challenge over contempt of court jailing

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
<em>Tommy Robinson has been released on bail following a legal challenge (Rex)</em>
Tommy Robinson has been released on bail following a legal challenge (Rex)

Tommy Robinson has been freed on bail by the Court of Appeal after winning a legal challenge after he was jailed for 13 months for contempt of court.

The former English Defence League (EDL) leader’s case was heard this morning at the Court of Appeal.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and two other judges in London quashed a finding of contempt made against Robinson at Leeds Crown Court in May when he was sentenced to 13 months in jail.

Robinson’s QC had argued at a hearing in July that the findings of contempt should be quashed as procedural errors had led to prejudice.

Lord Burnett, giving reasons for the Court of Appeal’s decision relating to the Leeds Crown Court allegation, said that once Robinson ‘had removed the video from Facebook there was no longer sufficient urgency to justify immediate proceedings’.

The court agreed that the judge at Leeds should not have commenced contempt proceedings that day.

Lord Burnett said that ‘no particulars of the contempt were formulated or put to the appellant’, and there was ‘a muddle over the nature of the contempt being considered’.

He added: ‘Where a custodial term of considerable length is being imposed, it should not usually occur so quickly after the conduct which is complained of; a sentence of committal to immediate custody had been pronounced within five hours of the conduct taking place.’

<em>Robinson supporters turned up outside the Court of Appeal to await the verdict of the appeal hearing (PA)</em>
Robinson supporters turned up outside the Court of Appeal to await the verdict of the appeal hearing (PA)

Robinson supporters were jubilant outside court.

David Scott said: ‘Brilliant result. I think it’s the best we can hope for at the moment. Hopefully it will start a backlash against what’s gone wrong with this country.’

Robinson was not present for the ruling and is expected to be released later from prison.

About 25 Robinson supporters had gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice by the time the ruling was made.

They cheered when news of the decision filtered through.

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A Royal Navy veteran who saw action in the Falklands was the first Robinson supporter to arrive.

Vince Cawthron, 70, made a four-and-a-half-hour coach trip from his home near Cwmbran.

He said he thought Robinson had been unfairly treated.

‘I feel that Tommy has been unjustly imprisoned,’ said Mr Cawthron, who was born in Hull.

A group of about 30 anti-fascist protesters gathered outside court after the ruling, shouting chants including ‘Nazi scum, off our streets’ and refugees are welcome here’.

<em>Robinson was jailed in May after he filmed people involved in a criminal trial and broadcast the footage on social media (PA)</em>
Robinson was jailed in May after he filmed people involved in a criminal trial and broadcast the footage on social media (PA)

‘I know what the system is like. I know they want to silence Tommy.’

He added: ‘We have become more and more of a dictatorship over the years.’

The judges were urged to overturn contempt of court findings against Robinson, 35, whose real name is Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon.

At a hearing in July, his QC Jeremy Dein argued that procedural ‘deficiencies’ had given rise to ‘prejudice’.

Mr Dein also submitted that the sentence was ‘manifestly excessive’ and that ‘insufficient’ regard had been given to personal mitigation.

<em>Robinson supporters celebrate after the former EDL leader was freed on bail (PA)</em>
Robinson supporters celebrate after the former EDL leader was freed on bail (PA)

Robinson was jailed in May after he filmed people involved in a criminal trial and broadcast the footage on social media.

The footage, lasting around an hour, was watched 250,000 times within hours of being posted on Facebook.

The far-right activist was given 10 months for contempt of court, which he admitted, and a further three months for breaching a previous suspended sentence.

Robinson was detained outside Leeds Crown Court after using social media to broadcast details of a trial which is subject to blanket reporting restrictions.

<em>A counter-protest against Robinson took place outside the Court of Appeal (PA)</em>
A counter-protest against Robinson took place outside the Court of Appeal (PA)

Jailing him, Judge Geoffrey Marson told Robinson that it was a ‘serious aggravating feature’ that he was encouraging others to share it and it had been shared widely.

He added: ‘Everyone understands the right to freedom of speech but there are responsibilities and obligations.

‘I am not sure you appreciate the potential consequence of what you have done. People have to understand that if they breach court orders there will be very real consequences.’

It was the second time Robinson had breached court orders, having narrowly avoided jail in May last year over footage he filmed during the trial of four men who were later convicted of gang-raping a teenage girl.

The judge on that occasion gave him a three-month suspended sentence and told him his punishment was not about ‘freedom of speech or freedom of the press’ but about ‘justice and ensuring that a trial can be carried out justly and fairly’.

Mr Dein argued during the recent appeal proceedings that the findings of contempt of court on each occasion should be quashed as a “conglomeration of procedural deficiencies” had given rise to prejudice.

<em>Supporters have demanded the former EDL leader be released (Rex)</em>
Supporters have demanded the former EDL leader be released (Rex)

The QC said the proceedings in Leeds had been ‘unnecessarily and unjustifiably rushed’.

He told the judges: ‘We maintain it is of particular importance that right from the outset the appellant, albeit in a very stressful and difficult situation, offered to have the live stream taken down and contact people who could do so.’

There had been no intention to disrupt the trial or to breach any order, Mr Dein said.

Reacting to today’s decision, HOPE not hate chief executive Nick Lowles said Robinson ‘remains a far-right extremist and a violent thug’.

He added: ‘This is a man who admitted to a serious crime and nearly derailed a major trial. Today’s verdict changes none of that…

‘With his convictions for fraud and violence, his brawling and attempted physical intimidation against journalists and others he disagrees with, he has shown utter contempt for justice and the rule of law.

‘Far from being a martyr for ‘free speech’, his are the actions of a dangerous, narcissistic extremist attempting to unite the far right around his virulent Islamophobic agenda.’