A convicted football hooligan from Portsmouth launched an unprovoked attack on Guardian columnist and left-wing activist Owen Jones because of his sexuality and political views, a judge has ruled.
James Healy, 40, of Laburnum Grove, North End, admitted assaulting Mr Jones outside a pub in August last year, but claimed he ‘had the hump’ because the victim had bumped into him and spilled his drink.
But the Chelsea FC fan – who has a string of convictions for football-related violence – denied being motivated by Mr Jones’s sexuality or political campaigning, claiming he didn’t even know who he was.
Assaults deemed to be hate crimes can attract significantly longer sentences from the courts.
Following his arrest, a search of Healy’s home found a number of items connected to far-right ideology including a collection of pin badges linked to white supremacist groups.
Following a two-day hearing to determine Healy’s motive, Recorder Judge Anne Studd QC ruled on Friday that the unprovoked attack could only be motivated by Mr Jones’s media profile as a left-wing polemicist.
She said Healy had ‘plenty of opportunity to remonstrate’ with Mr Jones in the pub if he had unwittingly spilled his drink, and made no attempt to do so.
Instead he followed him outside and kicked him to the floor from behind.
She said: ‘Mr Jones can be seen (on CCTV) to leave the premises followed by Mr Healy and his co-defendants who can be seen looking across – he doesn’t approach him to remonstrate with him about the spilled beer.
This was a deliberate and targeted attack on Mr Jones personally.’
She continued: ‘I don’t find that this was motivated by a drink spillage – this was a brutal, surprise assault with no warning what so ever. It was clearly targeted.
‘I am satisfied so that I am sure that (Healy) holds particular beliefs that are normally associated with the far right wing.’
She added: ‘I therefore propose to sentence Mr Healy on the basis that this was a wholly unprovoked attack on Mr Jones by reason of his widely published left-wing beliefs by a man who has demonstrable right-wing sympathies.’
Mr Jones suffered cuts and swelling to his back and head, and bruises all down his body in the incident outside the Lexington pub on the Pentonville Road in Islington, north London, on August 17.
Among the incriminating items found at Healy’s home was a photograph of him as a teenager allegedly performing a Nazi salute. Healy also had a football hooligan flag adorned with SS symbols.
One of the items bore the name of the Combat 18 neo-Nazi group, whose stated aims include ‘execute all queers’, the court heard.
A birthday card featuring a St George’s flag, skull and crossbones and the words: ‘You have been nominated and dealt with by the Chelsea Headhunters’, in reference to the notorious hooligan firm, was also recovered.
Healy said the items dated back to his time in the violent Chelsea Youth Firm.
He claimed he had kept them because he is a hoarder, and that he did not know the memorabilia’s connection to the far-right and white supremacist movements.
Asked if he held homophobic or racist views, he replied: ‘No, it’s 2020.’
Healy said that, in the photograph in which he is allegedly performing a Nazi salute, his arm is held out to the right to show off his Chelsea Youth Firm tattoo.
‘I’ve looked up the Nazi salute online, I’ve never seen a picture where their arm is out to the side – it’s always out in front,’ he said.
In her ruling, Judge Studd accepted that it could not be proven Healy was performing a Nazi salute in the picture.
In his evidence, Mr Jones said: ‘I’m an unapologetic socialist, I’m an anti-racist, I’m an anti-fascist and I’ve consistently used my profile to advocate left-wing causes.’
Mr Jones has almost one million Twitter followers, 125,000 followers on Instagram and 350,000 followers on Facebook.
‘Almost every single day I am the subject of an unrelenting campaign (of abuse) by far-right sympathisers,’ he said.
He added: ‘In January last year, I was informed by an anti-fascist organisation I had become one of the main hate figures of online far-right extreme Facebook groups.’
The level of threat prompted the Guardian to hire security team for him.
Mr Jones denied spilling Healy’s drink, insisting: ‘That absolutely did not happen.
‘If I thought I had accidentally spilled someone’s drink, I would apologise profusely, I would say ‘I’m so sorry’ and I would insist – whether they liked it or not – on buying them another drink.’
The defendant pleaded guilty to affray and assault occasioning actual bodily harm at a previous hearing.
Healy’s co-defendants Charlie Ambrose, 30, from Brighton, and Liam Tracey, 34, from Camden, who have previously pleaded guilty to affray over the incident, are due to be sentence on February 11.
Ambrose and Tracey previously both denied a charge of ABH and the charge was left to lie on file, with prosecutors accepting their actions were not motivated by homophobia.
A date for Healy’s sentencing has yet to be set.