Tommy Robinson loses libel case brought by Syrian schoolboy
Anti-Islam activist could face hefty legal bill after false claims led to Jamal Hijazi receiving death threats
The anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson has lost a libel case brought against him by a Syrian schoolboy who was filmed being attacked at school.
The English Defence League founder, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was sued by Jamal Hijazi after an incident in a school playground in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in October 2018.
Shortly after the video of the incident went viral, Robinson falsely claimed in Facebook videos viewed by nearly 1 million people that Hijazi was “not innocent and he violently attacks young English girls in his school”.
He also claimed Hijazi, now 18, “beat a girl black and blue” and “threatened to stab” another boy at his school, allegations the teenager denies.
In a high court judgment on Thursday, Mr Justice Matthew Nicklin said the consequences of Robinson’s falsehoods had been “particularly severe” for Hijazi, to whom he awarded £100,000 in damages.
The judge said Robinson had made Hijazi out to be “a violent aggressor” in the playground incident when he was in fact the victim.
The activist used language “calculated to inflame the situation”, Nicklin said, ultimately causing Hijazi to abandon his education and forcing his family to flee their home.
The teenager received death threats after becoming a target for the far right. Nicklin said the scars from the incident would “likely last for many years, if not a lifetime”.
Hijazi’s lawyers said they were delighted he had been “entirely vindicated”. Francesca Flood of Burlingtons Legal said: “It took 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, better known as Tommy Robinson.”
Robinson, who represented himself during the four-day trial, argued his comments were substantially true, claiming to have “uncovered dozens of accounts of aggressive, abusive and deceitful behaviour” by Hijazi.
However, the judge ruled Robinson had failed to prove each of his seven claims and that “in reality … his evidence fell woefully short”.
The judgment leaves Robinson, who has previously been financially supported by right-leaning groups in the US, facing a heavy monetary penalty at a time when he claims to be bankrupt.
Robinson said he was “gobsmacked” by the costs Hijazi’s lawyers were claiming, which he said included £70,000 for taking witness statements. He added: “I’ve not got any money. I’m bankrupt. I’ve struggled hugely with my own issues these last 12 months … I ain’t got it.”
Nicklin acknowledged there were “limits on what can be enforced against him” as a result of Robinson’s bankruptcy, but ruled he should pay Hijazi’s legal costs, which were not stated in court.
Robinson remains one of the UK’s highest-profile rightwing campaigners despite being banned from mainstream social media and beset by legal problems. The Luton-born activist has previously received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from wealthy international backers as well as ordinary supporters.
The judge said he did not believe the filmed attack against Hijazi was racially motivated. Bailey McLaren, the boy seen attacking Hijazi in the clip, had been “catapulted into the maelstrom of a media storm” and was also a victim in the case, Nicklin said.
He added: “In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising if Bailey regarded the defendant as something of a saviour; someone who was prepared to help him in what must have been a low and very frightening point of his life. With the benefit of hindsight and maturity, Bailey may yet come to reflect on whether he has actually been helped by the defendant.”
The full judgment is here Hijazi-v-Yaxley-Lennon-judgment-220721