Tommy Robinson can NOT claim accusing bullied Syrian schoolboy, 16, of violent attacks on girls was in the public interest, judge rules
- Robinson, 37, is being sued by Jamal Hijazi after he made videos about refugee
- He claimed Jamal, 16, participated in an attack on a schoolgirl, which he denies
- Robinson has applied to amend his defence to say actions in public interest
- Judge has thrown out public interest defence – but his defence of truth remains
Tommy Robinson’s contested claims that a Syrian refugee filmed being attacked in a school playground was violent towards girls were not in the public interest, the High Court ruled today.
A video showing Jamal Hijazi, then 16, being pushed to the ground and threatened with drowning at Almondbury School in Huddersfield provoked outrage after it was widely shared in November 2018.
Robinson, 37, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, later commented about the incident in two Facebook videos, claiming Jamal was ‘not innocent and he violently attacks young English girls in his school’.
He also claimed Jamal ‘beat a girl black and blue’ and ‘threatened to stab’ another boy at his school, allegations the teenager emphatically denies.
The teenager is bringing a libel claim against Robinson, who is relying on a defence of truth.
In June, the English Defence League founder applied to amend his defence to also argue that his remarks were made in the public interest. However, this public interest defence was struck out by Mr Justice Nicklin today.
Tommy Robinson (right) claims he was acting in the ‘public interest’ when he accused Syrian refugee Jamal Hijazi (left) of assaulting a schoolgirl – but a judge has ruled he cannot use that as a defence in the libel case brought by Mr Hijazi
But the judge accepted amendments to Robinson’s existing defence of truth, where the 37-year-old added further details to allegations of violence by Jamal as well as three new incidents, which will be tested at trial.
Robinson claimed the video of the attack was published and a GoFundMe fundraising page set up to present a false image of Jamal for financial gain.
Robinson’s lawyers said Jamal ‘had a financial interest in misrepresenting the playing ground incident as one of the racist bullying of a refugee, in order to maximise his income from the GoFundMe page’, adding the teenager may have alternatively been used by others to raise the funds.
A video showing Jamal, 16, being pushed to the ground and ‘waterboarded’ in the playground at his school in Huddersfield was shared nationwide in November 2018
They also argued that no attempt had been made to obtain the side of the story from the then-15-year-old boy who pushed Jamal in the footage.
Robinson claimed to have contacted and met the boy, known as B, and met with three parents of children who had allegedly been physically assaulted – in one case bitten – and verbally abused by Jamal.
He said it was in the public interest for B’s version of events to be publicised and to challenge the wider perception of the incident, as there was ‘far more to the story’.
But in a judgment handed down remotely today, Mr Justice Nicklin rejected Robinson’s public interest application.
He said: ‘It is clear that (Robinson)’s public interest defence relies principally in his reasonably believing there to be a public interest in setting the record straight, through him allowing B to put forward his answer to the proposition that the viral video demonstrated a racially motivated attack on the claimant.’
The judge said Robinson’s argument had not respected the difference between his ‘subjective belief’ and objective truth.
Lawyers for Jamal argued the video of the attack was uploaded on November 27, with Robinson’s comments published on November 28 and 29 respectively, giving him limited time to conduct his alleged investigations.
The judge said there was a ‘complete absence of chronology’ in when the interviews occurred, adding Robinson has still failed to provide the names of the people alleging Jamal had been violent to them.
Robinson appeared to be arrested on Sunday November 1 after allegedly breaching coronavirus restrictions at a protest in Hyde Park
Mr Justice Nicklin said: ‘In order to disclose a case with a real prospect of success, (Robinson) must make clear when the various interviews, and other steps upon which he places reliance, took place.’
He added ‘the door is not finally closed’ to a public interest defence because if Robinson submits a more detailed application with a suitable explanation for the delay, it will be considered.
The judge accepted amendments to Robinson’s existing defence of truth, where the 37-year-old added further details to allegations of violence by Jamal as well as three new incidents, which will be tested at trial.