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Stephen Yaxley-Lennon Defamation Trial: Day One

James Doleman reports on defamation proceedings against the founder of the English Defence League

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson) leaves court after the first day of his libel trial. Photo: James Doleman

DAY ONEStephen Yaxley-Lennon Defamation Trial

James Doleman reports on defamation proceedings against the founder of the English Defence League

Sometimes the important question isn’t what’s there – it’s what isn’t.

Just under two years ago, English Defence League founder ‘Tommy Robinson’ attracted a crowd of two or three thousand to London’s Old Bailey, as Katie Hopkins sat in the press gallery tweeting her support (although just for one morning).

Tommy Robinson with Katy Hopkins as he arrived for his sentencing at the Old Bailey in London in 2019.

Today, appearing under his real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the right-wing firebrand faced another trial, but in this instance a civil case at the Royal Courts of Justice accusing him of defamation.

There were four supporters outside, who appeared to be mostly filming each other, although one took the time to shout “fake news,” to someone they thought was a reporter, they weren’t.

The issue at trial is very simple, and the judge only has to decide one question.

In late 2018 a video of a 15-year Syrian refugee child, Jamal Hijaza, apparently being “waterboarded” by a schoolmate, took off on social media. Many national newspapers and TV news took up the story.

On his then Facebook page Yaxley-Lennon published a number of videos about the incident, stating that the attack was a response to Jamal’s actions, including biting and spitting at a schoolmate, and threatening another with a knife.

Jamal’s lawyers say this video led to death threats online, and the refugee family were forced to flee again, this time from Huddersfield.

Yaxley-Lennon has offered only one defence, that of truth (veritas) which means, as Mr Justice Nicklin made clear, the burden of proving the case fell to Mr Robinson, who has dispensed with counsel and is representing himself.

On the first day conducting his own defence, Yaxley-Lennon cross-examined Jamal and his father. He was notably restrained and many of his questions were ruled inadmissible by the presiding judge. These inadmissible questions included asking a witness what they thought another person was thinking and what did they believe occurred at a meeting they were not at. Such questions of hearsay and speculation are generally not allowed in English courts.

On Thursday Yaxley-Lennon will make his opening statement and the trial continues

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