How Tommy Robinson put Huddersfield grooming trials at risk

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent
Tommy Robinson’s live video, outside Leeds crown court, was viewed on Facebook Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

The Huddersfield grooming trials were revealed on Friday after a judge agreed to partially lift reporting restrictions designed to ensure a fair trial.

Following an application by media groups, including the Guardian, the harrowing details were disclosed in detail for the first time.

It was during the second trial in May when the case was jeopardised by the actions of Tommy Robinson, the founder of the English Defence League.

As the jury deliberated their verdicts, the anti-Islam activist turned up outside Leeds crown court to confront the defendants in a live video viewed hundreds of thousands of times on Facebook.

In the video Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, claimed the activities of the suspects were being covered up.

Within five hours of recording the video, Robinson was summoned before the judge, Geoffrey Marson QC, and summarily sentenced to 13 months imprisonment for contempt of court.

At the time, the 35-year-old former plumber was serving a suspended three-month prison sentence for contempt of court for breaching reporting restrictions on a separate rape trial at Canterbury crown court the previous May.

That trial was also subject to temporary reporting restrictions, which were also later lifted and the men involved were given 14-year jail sentences. Giving Robinson the suspended sentence for contempt in that case, the judge said her decision on whether to jail him had been on a “knife-edge”.

Jailing him after the Leeds video, Judge Marson told him his actions could have caused the trial to be re-run, costing “hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds”.

His lawyer Matthew Harding claimed Robinson had “deep regret” for what he had done in Leeds and had been “mindful, having spoken to others and taken advice, not to say things that he thought would actually prejudice these proceedings”.

But Judge Marson said: “Not only was it a very long video, but I regard it as a serious aggravating feature that he was encouraging others to share it and it had been shared widely. That is the nature of the contempt.”

The judge added: “Everyone understands the right to freedom of speech but there are responsibilities and obligations.”

His imprisonment sparked uproar among his supporters and protests in cities around the world, including the US and Australia, as right-leaning activists described him as the victim of an establishment crackdown on free speech.

Robinson, a former British National party supporter, was released from HMP Onley in Rugby on 1 August after successfully challenging the Leeds contempt of court ruling.

He will face a fresh contempt of court hearing before Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC next Tuesday at the Old Bailey. His previous appearance at the court on 27 September drew hundreds of supporters, some carrying the flags of Ukip and the far-right group Generation Identity.