This Thursday, Tommy Robinson will be back in court in his long-running contempt of court trial. He has served two months in prison already, and has won a previous appeal; but the effect of that success has merely been to return his case to the Crown Court where a new judge will have to make a fresh sentencing decision.
I was in court in July for Robinson’s last hearing. We were in the Royal Courts of Justice with their oak paneled walls, the Law Reports stuffed hopelessly on the shelves. The public gallery was full of Robinson’s followers, trying too hard to look smart in tasseled loafers, suits which hadn’t fitted in twenty years.
Ezra Levant from Canada’s Rebel Media, and recently Robinsons employer, was one of the first to arrive. He stood by the door to the gallery, nodding at the members of the public as we walked in. Later, Levant and one of his American friends could be heard reminiscing self-importantly. “Do you remember when I was in that class action, for the American Enterprise Institute? We intervened to prevent a settlement…” Levant was trying to signal to everyone watching that he was in charge, hewas the one who was paying for Robinson’s court fees. In fact, Levant and Robinson had fallen out a year before. The former EDL man was indeed having his lawyers’ fees paid from abroad, but the main funder was not Levant. It was a different foreign Islamophobe, Daniel Pipes of Campus Watch.
Robinson was watching the scenes by video link from Woodhill Prison. Can you see your barrister, the usher asked. “Yeah.” Can you see the judges? “Yeah. Are they supposed to be that small?” Bored, ignored by the lawyers in court, Robinson was “please” and “thank you” and trying hard to look serious. “I’m not nervous before a court case,” he said, “not usually.” Soon enough the sound was switched, off, leaving Robinson picking distractedly at his shirt, like a monkey savouring its fleas.
When they spoke, his lawyers made every effort to present Robinson as a quiet advocate of good relations between different communities. Yes, they accepted, Tommy Robinson’s livestreaming from outside Leeds Crown Court breached an order made on 19 March this year, which banned any person from publishing any report of those proceedings. And yes, Robinson was already subject to a suspended sentence from a similar contempt. But he was sorry. Very sorry.
Robinson was entitled to the protection of Article 6 of the European Convention, his barrister argued. Perhaps we can expect a future demonstration at which Katie Hopkins and their like demonstrate in support of the beloved Human Rights Act?
Robinson had been learning how to be an investigative journalist. He had been trying to better himself for the purpose of challenging extremism. A reliable solicitor’s firm, Kingsely Napley, had apparently trained Robinson and warned him where the line was between legitimate and illegitimate behavior. Which did beg the question of why he had so blatantly crossed it.
Tommy Robinson, his lawyer argued, was a delicate man, the victim of self-doubt. When in prison, he suffers anxiety, butterflies to the stomach. To which there is an answer, of course, that we need a world with more empathy rather than less. And that by organizing a street-fighting army to denounce mosques and ordinary Muslims, Robinson has been more than guilty of the very heartlessness with which he now complains the state has been prosecuting him.
Robinson has not been shy to market himself as at war with the authorities. His memoir is titled “Tommy Robinson, Enemy of the State.” I have sat in court and seen what happens in cases where the state is determined not to lose. There was a post-Occupy trial where the Metropolitan Police sent an assistant commissioner to sit for a whole day in court, in uniform, doing nothing more than signaling by his presence how much importance the police accorded to a successful outcome in the case.
But there weren’t any policeman in uniform to watch Robinson’s appeal, nor even a plain clothes note-taker. And, from the point of view of the judges, the reason Robinson was on trial was not his malice but his stupidity. If there is going to be a second edition of his book then it should be titled, “Tommy Robinson: the man who unwittingly frustrates the trials of Muslims and is therefore a minor inconvenience to the lower judiciary.” But maybe that wouldn’t sell so well on Amazon.
The best thing about Robinson’s successful appeal is that ever since Robinson has been in the hands of capable lawyers they have plainly been warning him (as any lawyer should) of the risk of further custodial sentences. For the time being, he has listened to them and the street protests have stopped.
But Robinson is still the same man he ever was, and he still has the same plan which is to demonstrate again and again for his own rights, and for the subordination of Muslims. This will require him to go back to social media and to say outrageous and offensive things until everyone else notices him. His time in prison brought in a bounty of donations – the equivalent, no doubt of the £100k that Rebel Media was once paying him for a year’s work – but Robinson has expensive tastes and many hangers on. Give it six months and that money will be spent. And, when it is, Robinson will be back on the streets again.