08:27, April 21 208 0 theguardian.com

2020-04-21 08:27:03
Tommy Robinson accused Syrian teen of attacking girl, judge finds

Online comments made by the far right activist Tommy Robinson about a Syrian teenager amounted to accusations that the young refugee had “participated in a violent assault on a young girl” and “threatened to stab another child”, a judge has ruled.

In an interim ruling on a high profile libel case, Mr Justice Nicklin said the “natural and ordinary meaning” of the two Robinson videos, which have been viewed more than 900,000 times, relates to a “specific allegation of violent conduct”.

The claim follows an incident in November 2018 when Jamal Hijazi, then 16, was pushed to the ground and threatened with drowning at Almondbury Community school in Huddersfield.

Footage of the refugee student being pushed to the ground and having water poured on his face was watched millions of times, provoking outrage and a flood of public sympathy.

Robinson, 37, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, then posted two videos on Facebook claiming Jamal was “not innocent and he violently attacks young English girls in his school”.

A full hearing of the libel case has yet to be scheduled. In his preliminary decision on Tuesday, the judge ruled that the accusations in the videos meant Jamal had “as part of a gang, participated in a violent assault on a young girl which had caused her significant injuries and threatened to stab another child”.

Jamal’s lawyers say the allegations are “very seriously defamatory”. Mr Justice Nicklin, however, rejected their contention that Robinson‘s statements would be understood to suggest there were other “incidents of violence beyond the particular acts that were identified” in the videos.

“The viewer would recognise that the defendant was making a specific allegation of violent conduct against the claimant,” the judge said.

Nicklin said the ordinary and reasonable viewer of the videos would understand Robinson to have been speaking figuratively when he said Jamal was “not innocent, he attacks young girls”.

The judge also rejected Robinson’s suggested meaning of the statements, that “as part of a gang, the claimant has committed serious acts of violence against a schoolgirl”.

Nicklin ruled that Robinson’s suggested meaning “fails to capture the gravity of the allegation being made against the claimant, specifically that [the girl] had been beaten ‘black and blue’ ... and ignores, completely, the allegation of a threat to stab the boy that is made clearly in the first video”.

In his ruling, Nicklin stated: “It is important to note that the court is only dealing with the issue of meaning. The defendant has advanced a defence of truth. Unless the parties resolve the litigation, that issue [and others] will be determined at a later trial.”

At a previous hearing last November, William Bennett QC, for Robinson, said his defence would focus on “those people who say they were assaulted by the claimant and the claimant’s denials that he assaulted them”.