Today
Thu 3 December 2020

Henry Dyer reports on a defamation case against the Brexit campaign group and how allegations of child sexual abuse have been weaponised by the right

Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, is suing Leave.EU over posts she alleges to be defamatory, according to documents filed at the High Court seen by Byline Times.

Leave.EU is alleged by Shah to have published a post on Facebook and Twitter following the 2019 General Election and announcement by Jeremy Corbyn that he would resign as leader of the Labour Party, offering fictional odds on “Remainers, racists and reprobates galore! Some excellent candidates to be the next leader of the loser Labour Party”.

Shah featured in the list, described in the post as “Grooming gangs apologist, Naz Shah”. The particulars of claim, filed on 5 August, states: “the words complained of meant and were understood to mean that the Claimant is an apologist for grooming gangs, and as such that she condones and defends the conduct of criminal groups who seek out children and other young and vulnerable people in order to manipulate them emotionally and physically with a view to their sexual exploitation and abuse.”

Before being taken down at around the end of January 2020, following a letter of complaint by Shah’s solicitors, the Facebook post had received over 11,000 positive reactions, 2,000 comments and 5,600 ‘shares’, while the tweet was retweeted over 600 times and liked over 1,400 times.

Shah is suing for up to £50,000 in damages in addition to her costs and the publication of a statement by Leave.EU summarising the court’s judgement. Shah has engaged the solicitors Carter-Ruck. Private Eye has reported the solicitors are “reputed to charge £500 an hour”.


Right-Wing Exploitation

Leave.EU’s alleged description of Shah follows a well-trodden path by the hard-right of focusing upon real and supposed Asian grooming gangs, largely stemming from the prosecution of a child sex abuse ring in Rochdale in 2012, followed up by damning reports on the cover-up of the systematic abuse of vulnerable children in Rotherham, in addition to other scandals in Oxford and the Jimmy Savile case.

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, or ‘Tommy Robinson’, has been one of the foremost voices on the hard-right to exploit sexual fears about non-white foreigners. As his former producer, Caolan Robertson, wrote in Byline Times earlier this year, Robinson’s speeches on “the abandonment of every working-class community in Britain, about standing up against rape and violence towards our young women, our young girls” focused on Asian grooming gangs, “not the systematic grooming of boys in the Catholic Church, or the majority of white men convicted of rape or paedophilia in the UK, or even against Billy Charlton, the de facto leader of the Sunderland campaign who was charged with possessing indecent footage of children this year.”

Yaxley-Lennon would go on to be appointed in November 2018 as ‘Grooming Gang Advisor’ to UKIP under Gerard Batten. The following year, in July 2019, he was convicted for contempt of court after livestreaming outside Leeds Crown Court in May 2018, while a trial of a sexual grooming gang from Huddersfield was ongoing. 

Earlier this year, Yaxley-Lennon visited Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, following protests in support of a teenager accused of lying about being raped by a grooming gang, after social media posts in her name went viral. The teenager, Eleanor Williams, has been charged with seven counts of perverting the course of justice. Yaxley-Lennon visited the town despite Williams’s family asking him to stay away. Cumbria Police say a year-long investigation found no evidence of Asian sex grooming gangs in Barrow.


Leave.EU’s Record

Leave.EU has previously shared posts on grooming gangs and the role of Muslim men in child sexual abuse. In March 2018, they shared a question asked in the Lords by Lord Malcolm Pearson, a former leader of UKIP, quoting Pearson saying: “We are looking at millions of rapes of white and Sikh girls by Muslim men, only 222 of whom have been convicted since 2005. Will the Government ask our Muslim leaders whether the perpetrators can claim that their behaviour is sanctioned in the Koran, and to issue a fatwa against it? Secondly, will the Government encourage a national debate about the various interpretations of Islam? Can we talk about Islam without being accused of hate crime?”

On the same day that Pearson asked that question in the Lords, he met with Yaxley-Lennon, whom he had invited to the House of Lords. Yaxley-Lennon went on to interview Pearson, who described the Lords as a “Europhile place, but of course it’s also a very Islamophile place.” 

Leave.EU’s Twitter account has also asked “How many British girls must be raped by Muslim grooming gangs before MPs stop being cowed by political correctness and use their position of power to tackle the issues head on?”, alleged that singer Lily Allen is a “Muslim grooming gang apologist”, and earlier this year asked why Burnley Police were not investigating “grooming gangs and rampant knife crime” in London, “instead of worrying about hurt feelings”, after the flying of the “White Lives Matter” banner over Burnley.

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