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Thu 18 July 2019
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The Rochdale grooming gangs prosecutor Nazir Afzal on Stephen Yaxley-Lennon’s conviction for interfering with a child sexual abuse trial in Leeds in 2018.

The right to a fair trial is at the centre of our justice system. In simple terms, it means that the prosecution has to prove guilt and the defence must be able to put its case, and that the court or jury must base its decision entirely on the evidence which they hear in the courtroom. 

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon knows this and so does his alias, “Tommy Robinson”. As a “journalist” he also knows that, to protect a fair trial, the court can prevent reporting of proceedings until they are concluded. If those restrictions are breached, then the individual who has breached them is liable to be in contempt of court and be prosecuted for that. 

Racial tension is their ultimate aim. Nothing more and nothing less.

Why? In a case involving high emotion, the jury must be focused on evidence and not on what people – who are not parties to the case – think. By live streaming his thoughts and targeting defendants, Yaxley-Lennon recklessly tried to prejudice the jury against the defendants. 

Two things flow from that. First, as happened, the defence teams can ask the court to stop the trial claiming that they can no longer achieve a fair trial for their clients. Secondly, if that fails, they could appeal the verdict if they were convicted, on that basis, that they did not get a fair trial. In short, the accused could walk free. The complainants/victims who have suffered years of abuse, including rape, who have suffered the often traumatic experience of giving evidence about the most terrifying and intimate matters over several days, will get no justice. 

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Taking that risk, you would think, was stupid. Unless it was deliberate. 

In the many so-called grooming cases I have prosecuted (I was national lead for child sexual abuse for several years after my successful prosecution in the Rochdale grooming gang case), I have seen the Far Right purporting to demonstrate outside courtrooms. They say they do this to highlight the disproportionate number of Asian or British Pakistani men involved in this model of sexual abuse. The reality, however, is that the media have quite rightly highlighted the issue without any help from them. 

Victims who have suffered years of abuse, including rape, who have suffered the often traumatic experience of giving evidence about the most terrifying and intimate matters over several days, will get no justice.

What they really want to is to disrupt the cases and jeopardise the trials so that, following the case being stopped, they can shout ‘there’s no justice in courts’ and ‘only in the streets’. Racial tension is their ultimate aim. Nothing more and nothing less.

That’s why the contempt laws have to be used to protect the integrity of the trial process Yaxley-Lennon cares so little about. And why we have to redouble our efforts to protect the right to justice of victims.

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