Tommy Robinson secretly recorded interviews to support libel defence, court told

Ryan Hooper, PA
·2-min read

Tommy Robinson secretly recorded conversations with school staff in an attempt to harness evidence in his libel trial involving a boy he accused of violence against young girls, the High Court has heard.

The English Defence League founder, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, said he “had to” film people covertly, because they might not want to stand by him in court.

The 38-year-old is being sued by a Syrian refugee named Jamal Hijazi, who was filmed being attacked in Almondbury School playground in Huddersfield in November 2018 – a clip which subsequently went viral.

Tommy Robinson court case
Tommy Robinson arriving at the Royal Courts of Justice on Monday (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Robinson later commented about the incident in two Facebook videos, claiming Jamal, who was 16 at the time, was “not innocent and he violently attacks young English girls in his school”.

He also claimed Jamal “beat a girl black and blue” and “threatened to stab” another boy at his school, allegations the teenager denies.

Jamal is bringing a libel claim against Robinson, who is relying on a defence of truth.

Robinson told a preliminary hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Monday that he felt it necessary to secretly record some of his conversations with school staff.

He told Mr Justice Nicklin: “If people were free to tell the truth, I wouldn’t be standing here.

“Unfortunately, I felt I had to do this.”

He said the secret conversations involved “people (who) have good jobs in the industry” but who are otherwise “scared to stand by me”.

Judge Nicklin said: “These people, I suspect, will be shocked to find they have been secretly recorded and are now featuring in a High Court libel trial.”

Robinson replied: “I needed to prove to people what they said.

“I’ve only secretly recorded people because the media are about to tell people I lied, that I made it up, but I need people to know I told the truth.”

Robinson, who was jailed for contempt of court in 2019 after he breached a reporting ban on a sexual exploitation court case, also described himself in court on Monday as “the only journalist in the country reporting the truth”.

He said he had spent “the last eight weeks in Huddersfield, speaking to staff and pupils”.

He was legally unrepresented in court but was supported by an unqualified courtroom assistant known as a McKenzie Friend.

The trial is due to begin on April 19.

The pre-trial hearing was adjourned until then.