The adventures of Tommy Robinson
I’m often asked to comment on Tommy Robinson, and the various legal scrapes he gets himself into, but I always decline. Not because I have any objections to anything he says or believes, quite the opposite. I understand entirely why he is so popular among those who feel persecuted by the oppressive left wing ideologies of the establishment. It is not racists that spawned Robinson, but the refusal of the state to listen to anything other than its own voice. A state that universally writes him off – and by association his millions of followers – as a racist thug, with evil intent, while at the same time constantly playing down the criminal contingent of the Islamic faith that Robinson oppose.
But that’s where my sympathy for him ends.
It’s not what Robinson believes or says that I take issue with but what he actually does, because much of it is reckless and ignorant, and for the most part ineffective. So when I heard he was suing Cambridge police for harassment, I had little interest. Having Robinson at the helm of a civil case is akin to putting a brick on the accelerator of a bulldozer and pointing it at the nearest court house. Besides which, what Robinson had suffered was trivial by comparison to some of the police abuses I hear on an almost daily basis. He is also the most generously funded political activist in Britain, earning approximately £200,000 a year from his donators, so finding a good lawyer shouldn’t have been a problem for him. With that kind of money Robinson could also help countless others bring more deserving cases against the police to court. People who don’t have the benefit of media attention, and have to suffer police abuses in empty silence. But for whatever reason, the bulk of Robinson’s activism is limited to his own issues. Much of which is self-induced.
Take for example Robinson’s contempt of court case. I agree that the initial hearing was defective and the penalty was excessive, but that doesn’t exclude him from blame. If he had bothered to check in advance what restrictions there were on reporting from outside a courthouse, then he wouldn’t have walked himself into the cross-hairs of the very state he knows are so keen to make an example of him. But Robinson seems to act out of a hasty disregard for his own safety and goes piling in to whatever it is he wants to make a point of, without considering how to minimize the attention of the police.
Another example of Robinson’s impulsiveness is his troll watch series of videos uploaded to Youtube, where he palms harassment off as reporting.
In that series Robinson goes in search of people who had offended him on social media, and doorsteps them at their home or business premises. One of his targets was a practising solicitor who then sought and obtained an interim injunction against Robinson for harassment. Robinson got lucky at this point, because the solicitor opted for a quick civil injunction rather than a slow criminal prosecution, thereby sparing him another court trial, or even worse a criminal conviction. He could even have found himself on the receiving end of a Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBO). A statutory injunction designed to prevent anti social behaviour. Both the police and the local authority have a habit of using them to limit the freedoms of the offender to an almost frightening degree. Youtubers such as Ally Law, and Marcus Potter, have already been subjected to them as a result of producing content that could be described as persistently and unlawfully harassing others in its pursuit.
Hit and run
Robinson’s botched civil claim against Cambridge police is the most recent example of his ‘hit and run’ style of activism, and one I cannot resist the urge to pass comment on.
This article is so long because I want to explain why the claim failed and why the judgement of the court was correct. That is not so straightforward when I have to concede from the outset that Tommy Robinson was right and the police were wrong. But he never had a hope of succeeding with his case in the slapdash way it was pursued. And his failure has caused more harm than good. Because it has established an unofficial precedent in the minds of the public and the police alike: that the police are immune from harassment and can run anyone out of town they oppose.
The claim originated from an incident in August 2016, when police officers – allegedly acting as football hooligan spotters after a local match – came across Robinson quietly having a drink in a Cambridge pub, not too far from some targeted undesirables. The police subsequently issued a dispersal notice under section 35 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, herding Robinson and his family out of town.
Robinson insisted that the police acted out of spite and dispersed him because they opposed his political beliefs. I’m inclined to believe that his opinion is correct. Low ranking police officers routinely take instructions from high ranking officers to disperse individuals, despite not having formed their own reasonable grounds to do so; a requirement under s35(2) of the Act. But as reasonable grounds has such a low threshold, it is fairly easy for officers to lie about it afterwards. This is precisely what happened at trial. But it should have been plainly obvious to Robinson that, without material evidence that the police dispersed him due to his beliefs, his opinion would not prevail over their lies.
Mr Clemens (Defendant’s Barrister): “Did any officer mention your views on Islam? Did any officer hint at your views on Islam?”
Mr Clemens: “Did any officer say anything that would give someone present the idea that they had said what they did, or do anything, that might give someone the right to think that they did what they did because of your views?”
Mr Clemens: “So the idea you had been discriminated against based on your views is a guess on your part, isn’t it?”
Robinson: “It’s trying to understand why it happened and the way it happened and for me to presume the way it happened. No officer said anything.”
Mr Clemens: “So you don’t have any evidence from this case that anything happened because of your views on Islam?”
Despite a lack of proof, Robinson relied upon his own misguided sense of the law, and hastily instructed lawyers to issue proceedings against Cambridge police. He believed that by doing so he would bring them to task, force them to admit they were wrong and somehow prevent them from doing it again. After all, by his own admission, it wasn’t compensation he was after, but truth and justice:
Robinson: “What is important to me is that when people make mistakes they accept they were wrong. This isn’t about me, I don’t care about your money, it’s about saying to my children that Cambridgeshire police accept what they did was wrong, and that it was an abuse of power.”
HHJ Walden-Smith: “You are starting to use this as a platform but I’m not going to allow it. You must answer the questions.”
Clearly at no point did anyone on Robinson’s legal team point out to him that a county court was not the venue of choice to seek truth or justice. Besides which, no judicial precedent can be established in the county court as the decisions made there are not binding. Therefore, even if he had won, the police would be free to continue to abuse their dispersal powers unhindered. But true to form, Robinson pursued the police in the same way he pursues everything: aggressively, loudly and in ignorance.
“I’m suing Cambridgeshire Police!”
In June, 2017, ten months after the incident, Robinson uploaded a video to Youtube confirming that he had initiated proceedings against Cambridge Police. The video demonstrates Robinson’s ignorance as well as his ability to stage events in such a way as to stoke up viewer interest.
The video opens with Robinson back in Cambridge, reliving the incident. It then cuts to him stood outside the county court clutching an envelope, in which he claims are legal documents that he is ‘serving’ on the court. He then walks through the doors before cutting to himself stood outside Parkside police station in Cambridge, preparing to serve the same documents on the police’s legal team.
The problem here is that Cambridge police’s legal team isn’t situated at Parkside, but 20 miles away at police headquarters. Secondly, lawyers bring civil proceedings on instruction from the client, not in conjunction with them. So official court papers should never have been in the hands of Robinson, especially if his lawyers cared anything for the integrity of the case. And even then they would have been mailed to the County Court Money Claims Centre in Salford, not handed in at the County Court in Cambridge. Which would be doubly pointless because cases are generally heard at the claimant’s or their lawyer’s location, not the defendant’s. Which turned out to be Peterborough – 40 miles away!
To add to this, there would be no reason to ‘serve’ documents to the police, as until the claim form has been sealed by the court, proceedings have not in fact begun. I doubt the unusually thin looking envelopes Robinson was clutching contained anything at all, which is just as well considering he was at the wrong court and the wrong police station. Not errors I would have expected Tommy’s hardline supporters to notice but it should have been fairly obvious the video was staged by what wasn’t in it rather than what was. Robinson is one of the new breed of ‘selfie-journalists’ who capture their confrontations on camera. Strangely, in this instance, he didn’t film himself marching into the station and ‘serving’ the police. Why not?
At the end of the video Robinson invites his supporters to help fund the case, insisting: “It’s not a cheap process because I wanted the best legal representation.” Well rather than opt for the best legal representation, it seems that he opted for the first. Because instead of employing a reputable and experienced civil lawyer well versed in actions against the police, he instructed a criminal barrister who helped secure his release during his contempt of court debacle. (Who I shall not name).
Any lawyer who specialises in civil claims against the police, would benefit from a long list of success stories that they could publicise as a means to sell their services. And yet I could not find a single mention of a police case on this barrister’s blog or Twitter account. Nor does her biography on her firm’s website credit her with practising in this area of law. Instead it cites her as an ‘expert’ on representing football hooligans in criminal court.
How his barrister believed that she could succeed with a claim that would not have been attempted by even the most experienced of police action lawyers, I cannot say. It should have been clear to anyone the claim was doomed to fail. But even at the end of it all Robinson maintained the misguided belief that he had “a black and white claim,” and blamed its failure on the judge. Even though the judge had already expressed concerns at how poorly the claim had been prepared, at the start of the trial, when she commented:
HHJ Walden-Smith: “The difficulty is with your pleading is that it is so widely drafted and so there is concern to what is being said there. Not to be too widely pejorative but it seems ‘scatter gun’.”
In other words both the judge (and the police lawyers) knew from the start the claim was hopeless but hoped if they threw enough up the wall, some of it would stick.
In preparation for this article, I emailed Tommy Robinson and asked if he would allow me to see a copy of the pleadings (also known as ‘particulars of claim’), as I did not want to make any assumptions about what was contained within them. I did not receive any response. Instead I have to rely upon media reports as to what the heads of damage were that Robinson was claiming under:
Harassment (under s3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997)
Article 9 of the ECHR – Right to freedom of thought, belief and religion
Article 8 of the ECHR – Right to respect for private and family life
Straight away, it should have been clear to any competent lawyer that Robinson’s case was ill-founded, by virtue of ‘harassment’ being listed as one of the heads of damage.
To prove harassment – under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 – you must show that there was a ‘course of conduct’. This means Robinson would have to prove that during the events that gave rise to the claim, the police harassed him more than once. That was not the case as issuing the dispersal notice and moving him on was one unbroken, continuous act.
At no point during the case – nor, I suspect, within the pleadings – did Robinson or his lawyers ever suggest that he had been subjected to a course of conduct. Therefore the harassment element did nothing else but artificially bulk up the claim. It would also have contributed to the legal costs that Robinson complained were excessive at the end of the trial.
Equally as futile, was the claim under Article 9 of the ECHR, on the basis that removing Robinson from the pub, and the decision to disperse, had been a deliberate interference with his freedom to manifest his beliefs.
In practise, the scope of Article 9 is very wide, as it protects both religious and non-religious opinions and convictions. On the other hand, not all opinions or convictions fall within Article 9, as in general, political and ideological views do not qualify for protection. Philosophical beliefs that are deeply held such as Veganism and Scientology, are protected. But Tommy Robinson’s opinions and beliefs, no matter how passionate, would not be protected.
Even in the highly unlikely event that the court held Robinson’s beliefs to be protected under Article 9, it would then have to be proven that the police dispersed him due to those beliefs.
The defence called multiple police officers to give evidence, all of which claimed to have been part of the decision making process to disperse Robinson. Every one of them, it seemed, pooled their stories and stuck to a pre-approved narrative. Robinson on the other hand relied on one police officer to vouch for him who had not been part of the decision to disperse, and therefore, unless he was an expert witness – which he was not – his evidence was as good as useless. The only thing that could be said of him is that Robinson had found that rarest of species: an honest police officer with scruples. But he would have been better suited to a freak show than a courtroom.
This leaves article 8, ‘right to respect for private and family life.’ This can be engaged when an individual claims to have been harassed by the police, but there has only been one instance of it. It is an alternative to the ‘course of conduct’ provision under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. As with Article 9, this is a ‘qualified right’ which means limitations are allowed if they are “in accordance with the law”. It would fall upon the claimant to show that the interference was not in accordance with the law. How Robinson expected to achieve that with no evidence and just his opinion, is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he hoped a police officer would suddenly come to his senses whilst giving evidence and blurt out the truth. Whatever the strategy, it failed miserably.
This is not an expert analysis, but even a first year law student would have been able to point out the hopelessness of Robinson’s case and the futility of bringing it to court. Did I say futility? I meant frivolity, because the obvious conclusion is that both Robinson and his lawyers took full advantage of the generosity of his donators. The trial was nothing more than an attempt to further Robinson’s aims, and enhance his lawyer’s reputation. I would not go as far as to suggest his lawyer intentionally mis-sold Robinson’s chances to him. She may have repeatedly briefed him on how futile the case was but he refused to listen. That certainly sounds like Robinson. It is not in the best interests of a barrister to keep their clients sedated with false optimism as they pursue a hopeless case on the basis that they will get paid regardless, as it could be grounds for a legitimate complaint afterwards.
Costs and offers
One thing I would say for Robinson’s barrister is that she was cheap. He alleges that she charged him only £8,000. Which includes all the necessary pre trial preparation as well as 4 days in court. A non-specialist barrister will charge on average between £125 to £250 per hour. However, specialist barristers command fees in excess of a £1000 an hour. And yet he seemed totally surprised by the fact that the police’s lawyers had calculated their costs at £38,000. Once again he puts this down to foul play and conspiracy, despite the fact he could have requested a full costs assessment from the court if he disputed the figure.
Prior to the action, Robinson claimed to have been offered two out of court settlements by the police but he refused to take them because he wanted a public apology. If he is telling the truth, then it would seem that the police were desperate to avoid a trial. Does that not prove that they were frightened of losing?
If the police did make an offer, it most certainly wasn’t as a means to avoid being beaten at court, because the lawyers would have known from the start the claim would fail. But the police hate being in the spotlight, especially a spotlight as bright as the one surrounding Robinson. The police’s entire decision making process will be under the microscope. Do they really want the public seeing how they abandon statutory process in favour of guesswork and improvisation? No. So why not slip the claimant a few hundred quid and maybe they’ll be spared the inconvenience of it all.
The police have nothing to lose by offering an apology, except the loss of face. Under section 2 of the Compensation Act 2006 “an apology, an offer of treatment or other redress, shall not of itself amount to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty.” But in Robinson’s hands, a written apology would have been paraded as proof that the police were in the wrong. Therefore the police had far more to gain from going to court and be proven to be right, then to publish a potentially damaging apology, and be proven to be in the wrong.
Hopefully, this appraisal shows why Robinson’s case failed. When asked to give his own reasons why, he relied upon his catch phrase of “state conspiracy.” In his mind, the judge had decided the case before she’d entered the courtroom. That’s as maybe, but it was Robinson’s poor judgement, haste and arrogance that was most fatal to this case. His primary objective seemed to be to drag the police into court to shore up his reputation as Tommy the freedom fighter. If it was all about holding the police to account then why did he not challenge the lawfulness of the police’s decision in the administrative court by way of judicial review? If successful, that would have established a useful precedent. The police’s decision would have been overturned and the first blow struck to the culture of abusing anti social behaviour powers as a means to prohibit anyone the police don’t like from doing something that is otherwise lawful. That way we would all have stood to gain something from it. Instead Robinson chose the worst possible route and the worse possible case to make his point.
None of this was going to change the publics opinion of Robinson because irrespective of the outcome those who oppose him will insist the police were right, and those who support him, will maintain the police were wrong. Therefore he is right back where he started. The only difference being that in almost everybody’s mind, including the police, he has established an unofficial precedent, that the police are free to harass whom they want, whenever they want, simply because they object to who you are or what you believe.
The official judgement
HHJ Walden-Smith’s oral judgement
Mr Lennon claims his human rights have been infringed. The allegation that Cambridgeshire police deliberately targeted him in my judgement must necessarily fail.
In my judgement there is no evidence that Mr Lennon was being treated differently because of his beliefs on fundamental Islam.
I will not deal if his views are philosophical beliefs.
On the basis on the relatively brief submissions and given the definition of philosophical belief, I find that it is not made out.
In order to be philosophical belief it has to be more than an opinion or viewpoint and not be in conflict with the beliefs as others. As Ms Gurden says, Mr Lennon has a viewpoint.
It is clear the evidence basis is not made out.
Mr Lennon, when asked in cross-examination, accepted he was not being prevented from providing his views, no officer mentioned his views on Islam and that there was no hint on the day about his views on Islam.
Mr Lennon, I think quite fairly that he was endeavouring to make sense what happened to him [and] the way it happened. That in my judgement does not go anywhere near his claim he was discriminated against.
Sgt street… said he didn’t know who he was talking to and frankly did not need what had happened to him afterwards as he received threats on social media.
It may be Robinson and his followers think his views are greater to the community than they are. There is no evidence for the inequality claim, and it fails.
In my judgement there is no evidence, relying on the evidence Mr Lennon gave himself, there had been a breach of [his human rights].
Mr Lennon also alleges harassment.
I cannot accept that the complaint made by Mr Lennon, which what happened on the 27th of August, satisfies that it was on two occasions. This was one event. It started upstairs of the pub and continued outside to the end of Regent Terrace.
The police were ensuring he had left the premises and was on his way to the railway station. This is not an issue if this was two actions but a statutory test and on any normal reading plainly there are not two separate occasions.
She continues: This claim for harassment in my judgement must fail.
That leaves Mr Lennon’s [claim] that his right to a family life has been infringed. The EU convention art 8 has been engaged with.
Cambridge police deny there has a been a violation.
That therefore takes me to the analysis that Sgt Street was taking into this account in his behaviour to Mr Lennon.
I am satisfied that another could reach the same conclusion, but that does not mean that everyone must reach the same conclusion.
In this case PC Mason may well have come to a different conclusion, but not everyone would come to the same one Sgt Street did for it to be a reasonable one.
PC Mason has told us he knew Mr Lennon for 14 years and his decision would have been guided by this.
In my judgement this does not mean Sgt Street was not acting lawfully.
The evidence of the Luton Town spotter that [Robinson] was a risk and with other risk supporters – it is reliable information, it is relevant and not to be discounted.
Ms Gurden ought not to take into account the evidence of other supporters. I cannot accept that on the face to be the case. It may not be the strongest of evidence and if he relied just on this he would not have reasonable accounts to accept.
HHJ Walden-Smith continues: The landlady clearly intervened to say Mr Lennon had been fine. That is evidence that is relevant but it’s not everything. She is referring to how they had been and not how he was he going to be.
Sgt street adds that the information from the Luton Town spotters together with the information from Luton Town supporters was added to by speaking to Mr Lennon and his behaviour.
He is seen in the video footage that he has been told twice by police from Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire that he must move on at 6.30pm.
Without the service of section 35 notice and the landlady said that Mr Lennon could have stayed until closing
Cambridge police were telling him to ‘leave or we will compel you to leave.’
Police did act within accordance of the law
It seems to me that until Sgt Street tells Mr Lennon he will be served a section 35 consequently Mr Lennon’s behaviour, from Mr Lennon’s perspective his behaviour is entirely acceptable, it can be taken into account in [Sgt Street’s] decision-making process.
I am satisfied that the standard for reasonable suspicion is a low one and that the factors could turn out to be wrong. A police officer is obliged to look at all matters cumulatively that provide the reasonable grounds to suspect and the necessity to give the section 35 direction.
In all circumstances, I find that Mr Lennon has not made out his case on the grounds he has put forward. I appreciate it will be a disappointment to Mr Lennon and those who share his viewpoints on these matters.
While Mr Lennon may feel aggrieved on the basis he did no wrong and the police ought not [to have] acted as they did, that is not the issue.
What Mr Lennon through his action he has brought the police through the … court and an independent person can look at it thoroughly.
He may well feel aggrieved but my duty is consider the actions of the police were in accordance with the law. I find they did act within accordance of the law.