Tommy Robinson will claim he was acting in the ‘public interest’ when he accused a Syrian refugee of assaulting a schoolgirl, the High Court heard today.
English Defence League founder Robinson, 37, is being sued by Jamal Hijazi after he made defamatory videos in response to reports the schoolboy had been assaulted in the playground.
A video showing Jamal, then 16, being pushed to the ground and threatened with drowning at Almondbury School in Huddersfield provoked outrage and a flood of public sympathy after it went viral in November 2018.
Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, later commented about the incident in two Facebook videos, claiming Jamal had participated in a violent assault on a schoolgirl which had caused her ‘significant injuries’.
He claimed Jamal ‘beat a girl black and blue’ and ‘threatened to stab’ another boy at his school, allegations the teenager ’emphatically denies’.
Tommy Robinson (right) will claim he was acting in the ‘public interest’ when he accused Syrian refugee Jamal Hijazi (left) of assaulting a schoolgirl, the High Court heard today.
Robinson, from Luton, appeared at the High Court via video-link today ahead of a full libel trial.
He is applying to amend his defence to include a pleading that his actions were in the public interest.
If the amendment is accepted, one of the issues to be decided at trial will be Robinson’s subjective belief and what is objectively reasonable.
Jamal’s barrister Ian Helme said Robinson’s application was ‘hopeless’ and contradicted by the evidence.
Mr Helme said: ‘This amendment has no realistic prospect of success. The key parts of the amendment are undermined by the evidence. They are not just unsupported they are undermined.
‘Apart from the shock that this amendment was tabled the reaction was the amendment was hopeless. It is not at all obvious what the public interest is here.
‘The types of matters that are considered public interest are usually the application of justice or the consideration by the state of public affairs.
‘If your Lordship refuses this amendment it is not that you shut him out and he has no defence, there is already a pleaded defence.’
Judgement on the matter was today reserved until a date to be fixed.
Robinson appeared to be arrested on Sunday after allegedly breaching coronavirus restrictions at a protest in Hyde Park
Various police officers, all wearing protective masks, lead Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, away towards a van on Sunday
It comes after Robinson appeared to be arrested on Sunday after he allegedly breached coronavirus restrictions at a protest in Hyde Park.
Previously, Robinson lodged a defence of truth to the claims he defamed Jamal.
John Stables, representing Robinson, said: ‘It is plain, very plain from my client’s witness statement in which gives detailed exhibits, material in respect of the interview he conducted and set up.
‘Whatever else might be said by the claimant and the claimant’s legal team that this part of my client’s case was hidden – it has not suddenly emerged out of the blue.
‘My client conducted interviews asking questions and so on.
‘He did this prior to the videos. In his witness statement the defendant says it has also been his intention to rely on a public interest defence.’
Jamal’s barrister Ian Helme told the court the first video Robinson posted was viewed more than 850,000 times in 24 hours.
Mr Justice Nicklin said: ‘This case is disappearing in a cycle of groundhog day.
‘Just when you think you have got the case sorted and you can proceed out comes another defence.
‘The case started as long ago as 15 May 2019. It has not even got to the stage where the court has given the basic directions towards trial.’
Robinson has admitted publication of the videos and that they defamed the teenager at a ‘common law’ standard.
He also admitted that their publication has caused serious harm to his reputation.
Robinson, from Luton, appeared at the High Court via video-link today ahead of a full libel trial. Pictured: Robinson outside the High Court last November
Robinson claims a defence of ‘truth’ and is now arguing what he said was in the public interest.
Jamal’s lawyers previously claimed that Mr Robinson’s ‘racist invective’ on Facebook led to the teenager and his family being targeted by ‘far-right activists’ which forced him and his family to leave the area.
At a preliminary hearing in March, Mr Justice Nicklin was asked to determine the ‘natural and ordinary’ meaning of Robinson’s statements.
In a judgment delivered remotely on April 21, the judge found that Mr Robinson’s statements meant that Jamal had ‘as part of a gang, participated in a violent assault on a young girl which had caused her significant injuries’ and also ‘threatened to stab another child’.
Mr Justice Nicklin rejected Jamal’s contention that Mr Robinson’s statements would be understood to suggest that there were other ‘incidents of violence beyond the particular acts that were identified’ in the two videos.
He said: ‘In my judgment, the viewer would recognise that the defendant was making a specific allegation of violent conduct against the claimant.’
The judge added that the ordinary and reasonable viewer of the videos would understand Mr Robinson to have been speaking ‘figuratively’ when he said of Jamal that ‘he’s not innocent, he attacks young girls’.
But Mr Justice Nicklin also rejected Mr Robinson’s suggested meaning of the statements, that ‘as part of a gang, the claimant has committed serious acts of violence against a schoolgirl’.
The judge ruled that Mr Robinson’s suggested meaning ‘fails to capture the gravity of the allegation being made against the claimant, specifically that (the girl) had been beaten ‘black and blue’ … and ignores, completely, the allegation of a threat to stab the boy that is made clearly in the first video’.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Nicklin stated: ‘It is important to note that the court is only dealing with the issue of meaning.
‘The defendant has advanced a defence of truth. Unless the parties resolve the litigation, that issue [and others] will be determined at a later trial.’
The case continues.