'I'm Delighted for Britain' – the Tommy Robinson Supporters Celebrating His Bail
We spoke to Tommy's fans and critics outside the Royal Courts of Justice following a judge's announcement that the former EDL leader will be freed on bail.
Tommy Robinson supporters outside London's Royal Courts of Justice. Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images
This morning, shortly after a judge announced that Tommy Robinson would be released on bail, supporters of the English Defence League founder and anti-fascist campaigners gathered on opposite sides of the pavement outside the Royal Courts of Justice. The former chanted, "Tommy's coming home!" the latter, "Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here."
Police formed a dividing line between the two groups in case anything kicked off, with officers politely asking Robinson's supporters not to approach the anti-racist protesters, who were congregated within a pre-erected pen, despite the fact the Tommy Team had free rein.
"Not only is Tommy Robinson somebody who's had a long criminal history, but at the end of the day this guy is a fascist, and to be honest I think he should have been locked up a long time ago," Nadia from Stand Up to Racism told VICE. "Think about Darren Osborne, who has been locked up for the Finsbury Park [mosque] attack – he was a follower of Tommy Robinson, and that was part of what radicalised him. How many Darren Osbornes are there in this society when people like Tommy Robinson are emboldening those hateful ideas?"
Nadia's fellow campaigners echoed her concerns.
"Obviously I think this is a complete injustice that he can just get a slap on the wrist for all the hate and Islamophobia he spreads, and essentially just carries on organising in the same way that he was," said Anthony, from the same anti-fascist pressure group. "If you look at the organisations he was in – ex-member of the British National Party [a fascist political party], leader of the English Defence League [a far-right organisation whose members attack Muslims and Jews] – I think this is a dangerous man to let back out on the streets, and all this will do is further entrench racism, and I think we've got to make a stand against that."
Nearby, as the mid-morning sun beat down, Rebel Media's Ezra Levant – who has long championed Robinson – buzzed around in a self-confessed "exuberant" mood, and appeared to goad the anti-racist protesters at one point as he broadcasted live.
Naturally, Robinson's supporters were in high spirits after the decision to release him, after he won an appeal against a contempt of court charge for breaching reporting restrictions.
"I'm here to support Tommy Robinson, the man who speaks the truth," said Jason, who wore an England football shirt. "It's fucking great. I don't think he'd done anything wrong. It's the establishment that was corrupt."
Suddenly, the small crowd – including Jason – broke into a rendition, "Oh, Tommy! Tommy!" so I found someone else to speak to.
"Obviously I'm happy with the decision – he should never have been locked up in the first place," said Sheridan, an Australian, who was also wearing an England football shirt. "I think there's a lot of people at home [in Australia] who agree with what Tommy stands for, what the British way of life stands for. They're not all able to come down here – they're at work, they live too far away. I've got the opportunity to come down, so I took it."
Outrage around Robinson's imprisonment has been stoked by various right-wing groups seeking to frame his case within the context of an alleged worldwide attack on free speech.
The Middle East Forum, a neoconservative US think-tank, is among the groups that have coalesced to support him to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds, allowing Robinson to hire an all-star legal team and to pay high-profile speakers to attend his "Free Tommy" rallies.
Robinson had admitted the charge – which related to filming outside Leeds Crown Court during a trial – for which he received a 13-month jail term in May. However, his legal team appealed against the sentence. At the Court of Appeal, Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett ruled that one of the contempt findings had been "flawed" and quashed the charge, with Robinson ordered to attend the Old Bailey for a rehearing.
According to the judgment, Robinson had been imprisoned too "promptly" in a decision without due regard to the law, which "gave rise to unfairness".
The judgement read: "There was no clarity about what parts of the video were relied upon as amounting to contempt, what parts the appellant accepted through his counsel amounted to contempt and for what conduct he was sentenced."
Several of Robinson's supporters cheered inside court number four as the judge passed down his decision, only to be swiftly rebuked.
The controversial 35-year-old, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was not present for the ruling and is set to be released from prison later today.
"I’m delighted for Tommy, I'm delighted for Britain, I'm delighted for free speech," said Bob, another of his supporters from outside the courthouse.