We Should be Grateful but Not Complacent that ‘Tommy Robinson’ is in Prison
Byline Times‘ court reporter James Doleman gives his personal take on the jailing last week of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon and his conviction for contempt of court.
I wasn’t going to write about ‘Tommy Robinson’ again after reporting his two-day court case at London’s Old Bailey at the start of July. As I said at the time, it was an open and shut case of contempt of court. However, reading social media after his inevitable prison sentence, I was struck by how many myths, distortions and – in many cases – outright lies were being told, so thought I should do an update.
As most readers will be aware ‘Tommy Robinson’, under his real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was sentenced to nine months in prison. This was made up of six months for breaching reporting restrictions at the trial of a number of sex offenders at Leeds Crown court last year, and the activation of a three-month suspended sentence for an identical contempt committed at Canterbury Crown Court in 2017. However, this was reduced by the three months or so he had already served in prison before his appeal, reducing his overall sentence to 19 weeks. As is standard in contempt of court cases, the defendant gets a 50% automatic remission – eligibility for release after serving half of the sentence – leaving him with around two-and-a-half months in prison.
Yaxley-Lennon arrived at court for his sentencing wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “Convicted of Journalism” on the front and “Britain = North Korea” on its back. Now, I’m not an expert of that country’s supreme leader, but I don’t recall Kim Jong-un punishing his political opponents by jailing them for a maximum of nine weeks as a civil prisoner who doesn’t have to work or wear a uniform and gets daily visits.
Interestingly, I was later told by those who were there that, while Yaxley-Lennon arrived at the Old Bailey in his dramatic clothing, he was not actually wearing it when he entered the court. Perhaps he lacks the courage of his convictions.
My first reaction on reading the judgment was that Yaxley-Lennon was a very lucky man indeed.
The two presiding judges – juries never decide contempt cases – could easily have sentenced him to the full two years in prison which the law allows for an offence of this gravity, especially after it was revealed that his actions nearly collapsed two trials of sex offenders, which could have led to their release.
Yaxley-Lennon’s farcical attempt to receive “evacuation and asylum” from Donald Trump put him closer to being a national joke than a national leader.
His demeanor in court was constantly belligerent, approaching the press benches at one point to call us liars and, despite being given the standard instruction not to discuss his evidence while giving testimony, he went out during the lunch break to give a speech to his supporters about his evidence. A more irritable judge might have added on a couple of months just for his acting the idiot.
However, Dame Victoria Madeleine Sharp was more judicial that many would be, merely saying about Yaxley-Lennon: “He has lied about a number of matters and sought to portray himself as the victim of unfairness and oppression. This does not increase his sentence, but it does mean that there can be no reduction for an admission of guilt, or for contrition or for remorse.”
If he had gone to court, pleaded guilty but said he had no intent to break the law, it’s likely he would have been released on the basis of time served. The irony is, his conduct has led to a situation were he is going to serve a month more in prison than he would have done if he had never appealed in the first place.
I don’t recall Kim Jong-un punishing his political opponents by jailing them for a maximum of nine weeks as a civil prisoner who doesn’t have to work or wear a uniform and gets daily visits.
So, Yaxley-Lennon is now in Belmarsh Prison. He is not, as some are saying, necessarily being kept in high security. Almost all male defendants sentenced at the Old Bailey are sent to Belmarsh before being categorised. It also has a very secure wing where prisoners who feel in danger can be kept away from any threat – something you would think a man who has constantly said he believes he will be murdered in jail would be grateful for.
In many ways, the reaction to Yaxley-Lennon’s sentence has been gratifying. The traffic warden who gave his bus a parking ticket outside the Old Bailey became an unlikely social media hero and, while his supporters did attempt a rampage through central London including attacking real journalists doing their jobs, their numbers seemed to shrink as the case went on. A demonstration outside Belmarsh itself this weekend was an embarrassing flop and Yaxley-Lennon’s farcical attempt to receive “evacuation and asylum” from Donald Trump put him closer to being a national joke than a national leader.
Yet, we shouldn’t be complacent. Far right movements do not moderate when they get smaller. Instead, they get nastier and more violent. One Islamic terrorist attack, one mass casualty bombing could change the situation utterly and put fresh wind in Robinson’s sails.
However, today he is in jail – in my view rightly. The far right hasn’t gone away, but for the next few months, it has lost its focal point. For that at least, we should all be grateful.