Far-right activist will serve 10 weeks after being found guilty of breaching reporting ban
Tommy Robinson pictured outside the Old Bailey, where his supporters later clashed with police. Photograph: Luke Dray/Getty Images
Tommy Robinson has been given a nine-month prison sentence – of which he will serve about 10 weeks – after he was found guilty of contempt of court at an earlier hearing.
Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, broadcast reports that encouraged “vigilante action” and “unlawful physical” aggression against defendants in a sexual exploitation trial, according to the judges who found him guilty last week.
Passing sentence on Thursday, Dame Victoria Sharp said of Robinson: “He has lied about a number of matters and sought to portray himself as the victim of unfairness and oppression.
“This does not increase his sentence, but it does mean that there can be no reduction for an admission of guilt.”
Robinson, 36, from Luton in Bedfordshire, had denied breaching a reporting ban by livestreaming footage of defendants arriving at court. He insisted he had only referred to information already in the public domain.
After deduction for time served, the sentence will amount to 19 weeks, of which he will serve half before being released.
The former leader of the far-right English Defence League flashed a V for victory sign to the public gallery upon hearing the sentence, and later winked as he slung a bag over his shoulder and was led away by prison officers.
He arrived outside the Old Bailey dressed in blue jeans and a black T-shirt bearing the words “convicted of journalism”, but was wearing a plain black one inside, where his barrister apologised for the defendant’s late arrival. Sharp, the lead judge, said: “Well, it’s not a very good start, is it?”
Police officers put on riot helmets and drew batons as bottles and cans were thrown when a crowd of Robinson supporters outside the court erupted with anger after the news from inside filtered through.
At least three people were arrested, City of London police said. The crowd later made its way to the Carriage Gates of the Houses of Parliament, blocking roads as they went.
Blocking the roads outside parliament they waved signs bearing slogans including “Tommy Robinson: political prisoner”, chanted support for the far-right activist and other slogans in favour of Brexit, as well as calling MPs “traitors”.
There were some briefly chaotic scenes as some protesters shouted abuse at police, and then crowded and jostled officers when one person was detained. Some protesters yelled “Paedophile protesters!” at police.
Several members of the crowd were holding cans of beer or cider, and one was overheard making racist comments.
The crowd, diminishing in numbers, moved around Parliament Square for a period before heading in the direction of Victoria.
Passing sentence at the Old Bailey alongside Mr Justice Warby, Sharp told Robinson they were in no doubt the custody threshold had been passed and the judges had taken account of information including the impact of prison on his health and family.
Aidan Eardley, the barrister for the attorney general, who had made the application for Robinson to be jailed, began earlier by outlining the sentencing options, adding that complicating factors included time already served, which amounted to 68 days in custody.
Robinson had been sentenced to 10 months when he was first jailed for the video he livestreamed from outside Leeds crown court, but appeal judges then ordered the case be reheard in full.
His barrister, Richard Furlong, said there had been no further incidences of contempt and asked the court to consider any actual harm caused by his client’s actions.
“Notwithstanding the seriousness of what has been found to be proven against him, in terms of actual harm to the trial of the criminal defendants in Leeds, there is no suggestion that the criminal defendants in Leeds did not have a fair trial, notwithstanding his conduct outside the court,” Furlong said.
Addressing his client’s state of mind, Furlong said there were a number of relevant categories, and “recklessness” was not as serious as others from the point of view of sentencing.
After sentencing, Furlong raised the possibility of an appeal against the court’s decision on contempt and was told he had 28 days to apply.
Speaking afterwards, the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, said: “Today’s sentencing of Yaxley-Lennon serves to illustrate how seriously the courts will take matters of contempt.”
Nick Lowles, the chief executive of the campaign group Hope Not Hate, said: “Stephen Lennon put at risk the trial of men accused of horrendous crimes with his livestreaming antics. He doesn’t care about the victims of grooming, he only cares about himself. He now faces yet another stint behind bars.”
Earlier this week, Robinson made an emotional appeal to the US president, Donald Trump, to grant him asylum, claiming he faced being killed in prison.
On Thursday, he was supported in court by the far-right commentator Katie Hopkins. Others in court included Ezra Levant, the founder of the Rebel Media, a Canadian far-right website.
Gerard Batten, the former Ukip leader who had taken on Robinson as an adviser before the party was wiped out in the European parliament elections in May, addressed the crowd outside from a stage.
Robinson meanwhile issued an appeal using the Telegram messaging app for supporters to protest outside prison on Saturday.
A full decision of the high court, released on Tuesday, explained the reasons for ruling against him. Sharp, the president of the Queen’s bench division, and Warby produced a three-page judgment setting out their findings last week.
“We are entirely satisfied that [Robinson] had actual knowledge that there was an order in force restricting reporting of the trial,” the judges concluded. “He said as much, repeatedly, on the video itself.”
Robinson was found to have committed contempt by breaching a reporting restriction, risked impeding the course of justice and interfered with the administration of justice by “aggressively and openly filming” the arrival of defendants at court.
Commenting on the impact of Robinson’s actions, the judges said: “The dangers of using the unmoderated platforms of social media, with the unparalleled speed and reach of such communications, are obvious.”