Tommy Robinson trial: Refugees sue anti-Islam figure for libel

Syrian family says they received threats after Stephen Yaxley-Lennon published claims they say are false on Facebook.

Video Transcript

NADIM BABA: Stephen Yaxley-Lennon arriving for the start of his trial for libel. The man who usually goes by the name Tommy Robinson accused a Syrian teenager back in 2018 of physically attacking girls at his secondary school. It came after this mobile phone footage went viral.

STEPHEN YAXLEY-LENNON: [INAUDIBLE]

- Huh?

STEPHEN YAXLEY-LENNON: [INAUDIBLE]

- Nothing.

NADIM BABA: It shows refugee Jamal Hijazi being pushed to the ground and having water poured on his face at school in Huddersfield in northern England. It attracted widespread condemnation including from the then prime minister Theresa May. Hijazi says it was part of a campaign of racist bullying by a group of fellow pupils. The remarks at the center of the libel trial came in two Facebook videos that followed.

STEPHEN YAXLEY-LENNON: I have a witness who's a young girl who was beaten up by Jamal.

NADIM BABA: Yaxley-Lennon also claimed Jamal, who came to Britain under a refugee resettlement program, had threatened to stab a fellow student. Jamal, now 17, denies all the accusations. His lawyer told the judge at the high court the videos, viewed by more than a million people, led to threats against Jamal's family, who have now had to move elsewhere.

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon recently said that he was bankrupt and couldn't afford a lawyer. He's representing himself here in court. His defense rests on proving that everything he said in those Facebook videos was true. The prosecution is hoping to convince the judge that it wasn't.

STEPHEN YAXLEY-LENNON: I'm outside Leeds.

NADIM BABA: In 2019, Yaxley-Lennon was jailed for nine months for contempt of court after breaching a reporting ban on a sexual exploitation case. In recent years, he's presented himself as a journalist reporting the truth about grooming gangs and focusing on South Asian perpetrators.

He first became known in the UK as a founder of the English Defense League or EDL, a far right anti-Islam group. He eventually quit the group saying it was because it had been taken over by fascists and neo-Nazis, but he's been banned from Facebook and Instagram.

- We don't want any more mosques.

NADIM BABA: For repeatedly breaking policies on hate speech. This year, a judge handed him an interim stalking protection order over his actions towards a newspaper journalist and her partner. His current libel trial is expected to hear evidence from pupils and staff at Jamal Hijazi's his former school. Nadim Baba, Al Jazeera, London.