A Nazi sympathiser who was told to read classic literature as he avoided prison for a terror offence will now be jailed, after the sentence was ruled to be unduly lenient.
Ben John was found guilty of possessing information likely to be useful to a terrorist, a bomb-making manual, following a trial at Leicester Crown Court last year.
Police found nearly 70,000 white supremacist and neo-Nazi documents in his possession at the time, his trial was told.
Judge Timothy Spencer passed a suspended sentence of two years and told the 22-year-old university student that he should try reading novels such as Pride and Prejudice and A Tale of Two Cities instead of far-Right propaganda.
The Attorney General’s Office referred the sentence to the Court of Appeal under the unduly lenient sentencing scheme, with Alex Chalk QC, the Solicitor General, presenting the case himself in court on Wednesday.
He told the hearing that John “resumed his interest in the far-Right” within five days of his sentencing, despite promising the judge those days were “behind him”.
This came to light when a police officer examined his social media activity as part of the five-year serious crime prevention order imposed by the judge, the court heard.
John ‘broke promise’ on leaving far-Right pursuit behind
Mr Chalk said: “It is worth focusing for a moment on what he said: ‘I have abandoned the far-Right wing as a pursuit’.
“And yet, and yet, and yet, on his Twitter account – and I stress this was within five days – he had researched the image of Adolf Hitler, he researched and ‘liked’ images of what appears to be Nazi soldiers.”
John had also accessed “highly, highly troubling” material just this month, he said.
Lord Justice Holroyde, sitting with Mr Justice Lavender and Sir Nigel Davis, quashed the original sentence, after concluding a suspended sentence was only lawful in this context if the custodial term did not exceed 12 months.
“The judge had no power to impose a suspended sentence as he did,” he said.
John, who appeared via video link from his home in Lincoln, was told he would instead have to serve a three-year sentence, with two years to be spent in custody and a further year on licence. He has until 4pm on Thursday to surrender himself to police.
A tale of two sentences
The ruling was welcomed by Nick Lowles, the chief executive of the campaign group Hope Not Hate, which previously wrote an open letter calling for the case to be reviewed.
He said: “The judge’s baffling suggestion that Ben John read classic literature reduced the serious offences he committed to a parody. The far-Right represents the fastest growing threat of violence in Britain today.”
The original sentencing judge had told John that he would test him on his knowledge of classic literature when he next appeared at a review hearing.
Earlier this month, John – of Addison Drive, Lincoln – brought copies of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to his first review hearing at Leicester Crown Court.
He told the judge: “I enjoyed Shakespeare more than I did Jane Austen, but I still enjoyed Jane Austen to a degree.”
“Well, I find that encouraging,” the judge replied.
Following Wednesday’s hearing, Mr Chalk said in a statement: “I referred Ben John’s sentence to the Court of Appeal, and chose to personally present it, because I believed it to be unduly lenient. I am pleased that the Court of Appeal agreed and chose to increase his sentence today.”