What happened yesterday to Stephen Yaxley Lennon, who styles himself Tommy Robinson, after he rocked up outside court in Leeds and was later arrested, shows that there are a lot of people out there who do not understand reporting restrictions put in place to ensure that those on trial receive a fair hearing. Lennon’s supporters largely do not want to know about this, and that is a pity - mainly for them.
As is understood here on Zelo Street, there have been three separate trials in progress in Leeds of more than 20 individuals accused of being part of a grooming gang. Not all of the trails have yet concluded. As with other grooming gang trials, the prosecution has invested a great deal of effort in securing justice for the alleged victims; part of that effort is to ensure that outside interference is not allowed to compromise or even collapse the trial.
That the trials had not all concluded was confirmed by the Independent’s report, which told “Lennon … had claimed that verdicts were due on Friday but court officials confirmed that the trial of nine defendants is ongoing”. West Yorkshire Police declined to comment when asked by the representative from the Evening Standard.
Free sheet Metro set out why Lennon was arrested: “He showed men entering the court on Facebook until he was approached by officers telling him to stop … Robinson is already under a suspended sentence over contempt of court at a gang rape trial in Canterbury last year … It is a criminal offence that can land people in jail”.
Former prosecutor Nazir Afzal set out the potential pitfalls of breaking reporting restrictions: “We nearly lost the so called Rochdale grooming case (#ThreeGirls) cos of a far right communication … Their lawyers applied at their trial that the jury had been prejudiced by Far Right We had to fight to persuade Court to allow trial to continue Those criminals came close to being freed & victims close to getting NO justice Jury must decide on EVIDENCE, not on your OPINION”. Others added their own cautions.
Sharon Bottomley warned “It's because this trial has reporting restrictions which are there for a reason. The trial has been split as so many defendants and when all have been tried later this year then restrictions will be lifted. They cannot risk any coverage as all 3 trials linked”. And Mike Stuchbery concluded “Cases involving child sexual exploitation are generally highly restricted. There are so many things that (quite rightly) can't be made public. What he's done is hugely irresponsible”.
Also, the warning given to Lennon by Judge Heather Norton at Canterbury Crown Court should be borne in mind. “In short, Mr. Yaxley-Lennon, turn up at another court, refer to people as ‘Muslim paedophiles, Muslim rapists’ and so on and so forth while trials are ongoing and before there has been a finding by a jury that that is what they are, and you will find yourself inside. Do you understand? Thank you very much”.
As Lennon’s actions are now linked inextricably to the continuing trial in Leeds, those reporting restrictions, and the contempt laws, still apply. They even apply to his Facebook page. That might be difficult for his supporters, and the likes of Lauren Southern, to comprehend. But that’s the way we ensure fair trials in the UK - for everyone.
It does not mean anyone’s free speech is being curtailed. That is all.