Tommy Robinson faces a £500,000 legal bill on top of £100,000 in damages after losing a libel case brought by a Syrian teenager who was filmed being attacked at his school.
The bankrupt English Defence League founder – whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – was sued by Jamal Hijazi, then 16, who was assaulted in the playground at Almondbury Community School in Huddersfield in October 2018.
Shortly after the video of the incident went viral, Robinson claimed in two Facebook videos that Jamal was ‘not innocent and he violently attacks young English girls in his school’.
However, a judge today ruled against him and said evidence for his claims ‘fell woefully short’, adding that Jamal’s behavioural record was ‘overwhelmingly positive’ with no evidence of any misconduct.
Mr Justice Nicklin granted Jamal £100,000 in damages, as well as ordering Robinson to pay costs which are understood to be more than £500,000.
Robinson, who represented himself and attended the remote hearing by video link, said he was ‘gobsmacked’ by the costs Mr Hijazi’s lawyers were claiming, which he said included £70,000 for taking witness statements.
He said: ‘I’ve not got any money. I’m bankrupt. I’ve struggled hugely with my own issues these last 12 months… I ain’t got it.’
The English Defence League founder – whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – today lost a libel claim brought by a Syrian schoolboy. He is seen outside court yesterday
Shortly after the video of the incident went viral, Robinson claimed in two Facebook videos that Jamal (pictured) had previously been violent, but a judge dismissed the slurs
The judge acknowledged ‘there are limits on what can be enforced against him’ as a result of Robinson’s bankruptcy.
In the clips viewed by nearly one million people, the 38-year-old claimed Jamal ‘beat a girl black and blue’ and ‘threatened to stab’ another boy at his school, allegations the teenager denies.
At a four-day trial in April, Jamal’s lawyers said that Robinson’s comments had ‘a devastating effect’ on the schoolboy and his family who had come to the UK as refugees from Homs, Syria.
Robinson argued his comments were substantially true, claiming to have ‘uncovered dozens of accounts of aggressive, abusive and deceitful behaviour’ by Jamal.
Catrin Evans QC, for Jamal, previously said that Robinson’s slurs led to the teenager ‘facing death threats and extremist agitation’ and that he should receive damages of between £150,000 and £190,000.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Nicklin accepted that Jamal suffered ‘particularly severe’ consequences due to Robinson’s videos, which he ruled made claims that were without foundation.
He said: ‘The defendant’s allegations against the claimant were very serious and were published widely. The defendant has admitted that their publication has caused serious harm to the claimant’s reputation.’
Discussing the media attention that was on the original viral video, he added: ‘The defendant’s contribution to this media frenzy was a deliberate effort to portray the claimant as being, far from an innocent victim, but in fact a violent aggressor.
A video showing Jamal being pushed to the ground and ‘waterboarded’ on the field at his secondary school in Huddersfield, W. Yorks, was shared nationwide in November 2018
‘Worse, the language used in the first and second videos was calculated to inflame the situation.
‘As was entirely predictable, the claimant then became the target of abuse which ultimately led to him and his family having to leave their home, and the claimant to have to abandon his education.
‘The defendant is responsible for this harm, some of the scars of which, particularly the impact on the claimant’s education, are likely last for many years, if not a lifetime.’
How schoolboy was taunted with racist abuse in ‘campaign of bullying’
In his witness statement, Jamal said he joined Almondbury Community School in the city at the age of 13, with very poor English, and was met with hostility from some other pupils.
He wrote: ‘I faced a lot of issues when I was at the school, including a campaign of bullying and attempts by other students to make me unhappy, so I would go home.
‘I was called names which at first I did not understand.
‘My Syrian friend explained to me what these words meant and suggested I should report these incidents to a teacher because the names were racist.
‘I refer below to a gang of students who regularly bullied me. They often called me ‘P**i’, ‘Syrian’ or ‘immigrant’ in an aggressive way.’
Jamal said the attack in the viral video was not isolated and detailed other incidents, including being threatened with a knife in November 2017.
He said his sister Fariha was also bullied, referencing an incident where her hijab was deliberately removed by another student.
Jamal also said in his statement he had ‘no idea’ about Robinson before the Facebook videos were made.
He added: ‘His job has been explained to me by both my litigation friend and my solicitors, but I still do not fully understand what he does.
‘I understand that a part of what he does is to make content and that the more attention it gets, the more money and support he can gain.’
The footage of the incident at Almondbury Community School had provoked outrage and prompted well-wishers to set up an online crowdfunding page for the Syrian family, which received £50,000 in donations in the space of a day.
Ex-Prime Minister Theresa May said at the time that the generous public response showed the ‘true spirit of Britain’.
Shortly after the footage emerged, the alleged victim said he no longer felt safe at school.
He told ITV News: ‘I woke up at night and just started crying about this problem. They think I’m different – different from them.
‘I don’t feel safe at school. Sometimes I say to my dad, ‘I don’t want to go to school anymore. I was just crying.’
Speaking on Thursday, Mr Justice Nicklin said: ‘The defendant took on the burden of proving his allegations to be true. He has failed. In reality, and for the reasons I have explained, his evidence fell woefully short.
‘He has, however, persisted with the serious allegations he originally made, and has even added to them during the proceedings. The claimant has had to face them in the full glare and publicity of a High Court trial.
‘It is my responsibility to make clear that the defendant has failed in his defence of truth, to vindicate the claimant and to award him a sum in damages that represents fair compensation. The sum I award is £100,000.’
In his judgment, Mr Justice Nicklin rejected the allegations made as part of Robinson’s defence that Jamal had been abusive towards women.
He said: ‘I am satisfied that if the claimant had behaved so repeatedly in the abusive manner alleged, including to members of staff, then this would have been recorded in the claimant’s school records.
‘There is no trace of any such behaviour by the claimant in these records. On the contrary, his behavioural record is overwhelmingly positive.’
The judge added: ‘In summary, the defendant has failed to demonstrate that the claimant had any propensity to behave in an aggressive or abusive manner towards girls and women.’
In addition, the judge he granted Jamal an injunction against Robinson preventing him from repeating the allegations he made against him.
The judge said he was initially not going to grant an injunction as he felt Jamal had not ‘demonstrated that, if I did not grant an injunction, that there was a risk of (Robinson) going on and publishing the allegations’ again.
in a judgment delivered today, Mr Justice Nicklin ruled in Jamal’s favour and granted him £100,000 in damages. He is pictured outside court earlier in the case
Who is Jamal Hijazi’s solicitor?
Mohammed Tasnime Akunjee
Privately-educated solicitor Tasnime Akunjee has represented the families of the three girls from Tower Hamlets, east London, who fled the UK to join Islamic State, including Shamima Begum, since 2015.
Other previous clients of the criminal defence lawyer include one of Lee Rigby’s killers. He once blamed British authorities for ‘creating’ Fusilier Rigby’s killer, suggested Theresa May has ‘Nazi blood’ for trying to root out extremists and urged Muslims not to cooperate with police.
Twice married Mr Akunjee, 41, has worked for a series of law firms since 2008, while also working as a legal adviser to the East London Mosque.
According to his LinkedIn page, Mr Akunjee, the son of a Bangladeshi doctor, studied at the £18,000-a-year City of London School for Boys.
He went on to study law at the Universities of Sussex and then Westminster.
But Jamal’s lawyers said a video published by Robinson on social media this weekend – in which he said he was going to publish ‘the total evidence and proof’ of what Jamal ‘was like’ – meant an injunction was necessary.
Robinson said he had been commissioned to make a film about the incident which was ‘already made’, adding: ‘It’s left for the viewer to make their mind (up) on what’s happened.’
He argued that an injunction was not necessary and said: ‘I think there will be mass concern by the public that they are not being able to make their own minds up.’
Mr Justice Nicklin ruled: ‘The injunction, I am satisfied, should be granted.’
Jamal’s solicitor is Tasnime Akunjee, the same lawyer who supported Jihadi bride Shamima Begum’s family after she left her east London home to join ISIS in Syria.
Mr Akunjee wrote to Robinson telling him that legal action was being pursued against him in 2019.
During the trial, Ms Evans described Robinson as ‘a well-known extreme-right advocate’ with an ‘anti-Muslim agenda’ who used social media to spread his views.
She added that Robinson’s videos ‘turned Jamal into the aggressor and the bully into a righteous white knight’.
Robinson had maintained he was an independent journalist during the trial, telling the court: ‘The media simply had zero interest in the other side of this story, the uncomfortable truth.’
Jamal’s lawyer, Francesca Flood, said: ‘It took great courage for our client, Jamal Hijazi, to pursue his libel action against such a prominent far-right and anti-Islam activist as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson.
‘We are delighted that Jamal has been entirely vindicated. Jamal and his family now wish to put this matter behind them in order that they can get on with their lives.
‘They do, however, wish to extend their gratitude to the great British public for their support and generosity, without which this legal action would not have been possible.’
The trial also heard evidence from Bailey McLaren, the boy shown pushing Jamal to the ground and pouring water over him in the widely shared video, who denied being racist or a bully.
A hearing will follow today’s judgment to consider the consequences of the ruling.