Neo-Nazi Told to Read Literature to Avoid Jail Will Have His Sentence Reviewed

The Court of Appeal will step in after Ben John was spared a potential 15-year sentence for possessing information likely to be useful for an act of terror.
September 29, 2021, 2:44pm
BEN JOHN OUTSIDE LEICESTER CROWN COURT.
BEN JOHN OUTSIDE LEICESTER CROWN COURT. PHOTO: LEICESTER MERCURY

A controversial sentence that led to a neo-Nazi being ordered to read classic English literature rather than sent to jail is to be reviewed.

Ben John, a 21-year-old right-wing extremist, was convicted by a jury last month of possessing information likely to be useful for preparing an act of terror. The charge, laid after police found bomb-making instructions along with tens of thousands of white supremacist and anti-Semitic documents on John’s computer, carried a maximum jail sentence of 15 years. 

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But in sentencing, Judge Timothy Spencer QC spared John from prison, handing him a two-year suspended sentence. He advised John to read classic English literature, rather than extremist propaganda, and to return to court in January to be “tested” on the material.

“Have you read Dickens? Austen? Start with Pride and Prejudice and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Think about Hardy. Think about Trollope,” said the judge.

On Tuesday, the Attorney General’s Office said the sentence had been referred to the Court of Appeal, as it appeared "unduly lenient.”

"It is now for the court to decide whether to increase the sentence,” said a spokesperson.

The initial sentence drew criticism from UK anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate, which said it failed to take the threat of far-right terrorism seriously, and asked for it to be reviewed.

"This sentence is sending a message that violent right-wing extremists may be treated leniently by the courts,” read an open letter written by the group's chief executive, Nick Lowles.

Lowles told VICE World News at the time that the John case was just the latest example of judges apparently failing to take far-right terrorism seriously. 

It followed another case in November, in which 18-year-old neo-Nazi Harry Vaughan, was sentenced to two years detention in a young offenders' institution, suspended for two years, after pleading guilty to 12 counts of possessing documents useful to a terrorist, one count of encouraging terrorism, and one of disseminating terrorist publications, as well as two counts of possessing indecent images.