English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson today lost a libel case brought by a Syrian schoolboy who was filmed being attacked at his school – landing him with a £100,000 bill for damages.
The English Defence League founder – whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – was sued by Jamal Hijazi, then 16, who was assaulted in the playground at Almondbury Community School in Huddersfield in October 2018.
Shortly after the video of the incident went viral, Robinson claimed in two Facebook videos that Jamal was ‘not innocent and he violently attacks young English girls in his school’.
However, a judge today ruled against him and said evidence for his claims ‘fell woefully short’.
The English Defence League founder – whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – today lost a libel claim brought by a Syrian schoolboy. He is seen outside court yesterday
Tommy Robinson (right) was sued by Syrian refugee Jamal Hijazi (left) who was filmed being attacked at his school
In the clips viewed by nearly one million people, the 38-year-old also claimed Jamal ‘beat a girl black and blue’ and ‘threatened to stab’ another boy at his school, allegations the teenager denies.
At a four-day trial in April, Jamal’s lawyers said that Robinson’s comments had ‘a devastating effect’ on the schoolboy and his family who had come to the UK as refugees from Homs, Syria.
Robinson, who represented himself, argued his comments were substantially true, claiming to have ‘uncovered dozens of accounts of aggressive, abusive and deceitful behaviour’ by Jamal.
However, in a judgment delivered on Thursday, Mr Justice Nicklin ruled in Jamal’s favour and granted him £100,000 in damages.
Catrin Evans QC, for Jamal, previously said that Robinson’s comments led to the teenager ‘facing death threats and extremist agitation’ and that he should receive damages of between £150,000 and £190,000.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Nicklin accepted that Jamal suffered ‘particularly severe’ consequences due to Robinson’s videos.
He said: ‘The defendant’s allegations against the claimant were very serious and were published widely. The defendant has admitted that their publication has caused serious harm to the claimant’s reputation.’
A video showing Jamal being pushed to the ground and ‘waterboarded’ on the field at his secondary school in Huddersfield, W. Yorks, was shared nationwide in November 2018
How schoolboy was taunted with racist abuse in ‘campaign of bullying’
In his witness statement, Jamal said he joined Almondbury Community School in the city at the age of 13, with very poor English, and was met with hostility from some other pupils.
He wrote: ‘I faced a lot of issues when I was at the school, including a campaign of bullying and attempts by other students to make me unhappy, so I would go home.
‘I was called names which at first I did not understand.
‘My Syrian friend explained to me what these words meant and suggested I should report these incidents to a teacher because the names were racist.
‘I refer below to a gang of students who regularly bullied me. They often called me ‘P**i’, ‘Syrian’ or ‘immigrant’ in an aggressive way.’
Jamal said the attack in the viral video was not isolated and detailed other incidents, including being threatened with a knife in November 2017.
He said his sister Fariha was also bullied, referencing an incident where her hijab was deliberately removed by another student.
Jamal also said in his statement he had ‘no idea’ about Robinson before the Facebook videos were made.
He added: ‘His job has been explained to me by both my litigation friend and my solicitors, but I still do not fully understand what he does.
‘I understand that a part of what he does is to make content and that the more attention it gets, the more money and support he can gain.’
Discussing the media attention that was on the original viral video, he added: ‘The defendant’s contribution to this media frenzy was a deliberate effort to portray the claimant as being, far from an innocent victim, but in fact a violent aggressor.
‘Worse, the language used in the first and second videos was calculated to inflame the situation.
‘As was entirely predictable, the claimant then became the target of abuse which ultimately led to him and his family having to leave their home, and the claimant to have to abandon his education.
‘The defendant is responsible for this harm, some of the scars of which, particularly the impact on the claimant’s education, are likely last for many years, if not a lifetime.’
Mr Justice Nicklin continued: ‘The defendant took on the burden of proving his allegations to be true. He has failed. In reality, and for the reasons I have explained, his evidence fell woefully short.
‘He has, however, persisted with the serious allegations he originally made, and has even added to them during the proceedings. The claimant has had to face them in the full glare and publicity of a High Court trial.
‘It is my responsibility to make clear that the defendant has failed in his defence of truth, to vindicate the claimant and to award him a sum in damages that represents fair compensation. The sum I award is £100,000.’
During the trial, Ms Evans described Robinson as ‘a well-known extreme-right advocate’ with an ‘anti-Muslim agenda’ who used social media to spread his views.
She added that Robinson’s videos ‘turned Jamal into the aggressor and the bully into a righteous white knight’.
However, Robinson maintained he was an independent journalist during the trial, telling the court: ‘The media simply had zero interest in the other side of this story, the uncomfortable truth.’
in a judgment delivered today, Mr Justice Nicklin ruled in Jamal’s favour and granted him £100,000 in damages. He is pictured outside court earlier in the case
Jamal’s lawyer, Francesca Flood, said: ‘It took great courage for our client, Jamal Hijazi, to pursue his libel action against such a prominent far-right and anti-Islam activist as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson.
‘We are delighted that Jamal has been entirely vindicated.
‘Jamal and his family now wish to put this matter behind them in order that they can get on with their lives.
‘They do, however, wish to extend their gratitude to the great British public for their support and generosity, without which this legal action would not have been possible.’
The trial also heard evidence from Bailey McLaren, the boy shown pushing Jamal to the ground and pouring water over him in the widely shared video, who denied being racist or a bully.
A hearing will follow today’s judgment to consider the consequences of the ruling.