Tommy Robinson is well-known in the UK's far-right scene | Photo: picture-alliance/empics/G. Fuller
Tommy Robinson is well-known in the UK's far-right scene | Photo: picture-alliance/empics/G. Fuller

A judge in the UK has ordered a British far-right figurehead to pay £100,000 to a young Syrian national in a high-profile libel case. However, the claimant may never see much of the money as the defendant has stated that he is insolvent.

English Defence League (EDL) founder Tommy Robinson has lost a libel case brought by Syrian schoolboy Jamal Hijazi who was filmed while being attacked at Almondbury Community School in Huddersfield in 2018.

The video of the assault went viral with nearly one million views when Robinson alleged in two Facebook videos that Hijazi was "not innocent" and that he "violently attacks young English girls in his school." Robinson claimed in those videos that Hijazi "beat a girl black and blue" and that he had "threatened to stab" another boy.

High Court judge Matthew Nicklin ruled that Robinson had failed to prove his allegations and that he had used language in his social media posts that was "calculated to inflame the situation." Justice Nicklin added that scars from the incident would "likely last for many years, if not a lifetime" on Hijazi, who now is 18 years of age, and imposed a court injunction to stop Robinson from repeating the allegations.

Insolvent defendant 

Nicklin said that Robinson's attempt to prove his allegations had fallen "woefully short," granting Hijazi £100,000 (€116,000) in damages. In addition to paying the damages, Robinson was also ordered to pay the legal costs, which the BBC reported might be up to £500,000.

However, Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has meanwhile told the court he declared financial bankruptcy in March.

The final damages and costs will now be agreed on at forthcoming hearings to establish Robinson's means and assets. The BBC's Dominic Casciani reported that this would be the "first proper formal investigation" into Robinson's actual financial standing, who has also previously been accused of misappropriating donations from his supporters.

'Vindication' for teenage victim of hate speech

Robinson represented himself in court without appointing a lawyer, maintaining throughout the trial that his online comments broadly were true and claiming he had "uncovered dozens of accounts of aggressive, abusive and deceitful behaviour" by Hijazi.

One of Hijazi's lawyer said that the comments had resulted in her client receiving death threats. Hijazi and his family, who had come to the UK as refugees, were forced to move home, and Hijazi was also forced to abandon his education.

Another member of Hijazi's legal team, Francesca Flood, welcomed the decision, saying that it had taken "great courage for our client, Jamal Hijazi, to pursue his libel action against such a prominent far-right and anti-Islam activist as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon."

"We are delighted that Jamal has been entirely vindicated."

A notorious far-right agitator

Robinson is a well-known figure in the far-right scene in the UK. The 38-year-old founding member of the EDL, which claims that the United Kingdom is under a growing threat from Islam, has worked with numerous right-wing movements including the British National Party (BNP) and Pegida UK. The EDL was found to have links with Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Oslo and the nearby Utoya island ten years ago.

Robinson has distanced himself from the EDL and other overtly anti-Islam agitators in recent years but has engaged repeatedly in rhetoric that could be seen as Islamophobia. 

Robinson has a criminal record that includes convictions for violence, financial and immigration frauds, drug possession, contempt of court and public order offences, and has already served four terms of imprisonment.

 

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