Tommy Robinson “knew full well” what he was doing when he identified an alleged grooming gang while broadcasting live on Facebook from outside a criminal trial, a court heard yesterday.
Appearing at the Old Bailey under his real name, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, 36, is accused of contempt of court for breaking a reporting ban imposed to safeguard justice for a series of linked child sex trials.
The founder of the far-right English Defence League was said to have been “subjectively reckless” by failing to establish whether reporting orders had been imposed on the case at Leeds Crown Court last year.
His hour-long video which showed defendants arriving was seen live by 10,000 followers before notching up 250,000 views in the following three days.
Andrew Caldecott, QC, for the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC who is bringing the case, said: “In 2017, 29 individuals of Asian background were charged with serious offences involving the sexual exploitation of young girls in Huddersfield.
“The primary case is that Mr Yaxley-Lennon knew full well that there was a reporting restriction order in the case.
“He was at court and could have ascertained its terms with ease, either on the day or earlier, and it was a wholly irresponsible risk to speculate what the terms were or might be.”
In the recordings Yaxley-Lennon made on Facebook, he could be heard asking defendants if they had brought their prison bags, a reference to how the jury was deliberating and so nearing a verdict.
The self-proclaimed “citizen journalist” filmed himself referring to another defendant: “Harass him, find him, go knock on his door, follow him, see where he works, see what he's doing.”
However, giving evidence Yaxley-Lennon, who denies contempt of court, insisted that in his video he was urging the “mainstream media” to cover the trial, adding that they were not in attendance at court.
He said he and two colleagues had tried to see if reporting restrictions were imposed by asking staff, looking for a notice outside the courtroom as well as scouring the court website.
He said that he “erred on the side of caution” in his broadcast by only referring to elements already in the public domain, adding how he did not mention the linked trials.
Michelle Dunderdale, who works at the Leeds court, admitted that there had been an “administration process failure” that day and details of orders imposed on the case had not been posted outside courtrooms or logged on the computer system. Confirming that an internal inquiry had been launched to establish why orders had not been posted, she explained that all staff knew to tell anyone who asked that strict reporting restrictions had been imposed on the trial.
Yaxley-Lennon has already served two months in jail for contempt before being freed after the conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal in August last year, in part because the defendant was not given adequate time to prepare a defence.
Permission was granted for fresh proceedings to be brought against him earlier this year.
Last year 20 men in the three linked case were found guilty of raping girls as young as 11. The cases were covered extensively once the reporting order had been lifted.
The case continues.