Prominent far-right activist Tommy Robinson has won his challenge against a contempt of court charge, and was this afternoon released from prison on bail.
Supporters of the founder of the English Defence League (EDL), which has organised violent demonstrations against Islamic immigrants in the UK in the past decade, broke into a round of applause as Chief Justice Lord Burnett announced the decision.
Robinson’s case became a rallying point for the hard-right and was backed by powerful political supporters. It also attracted international attention after sources said a representative of Donald Trump had raised it with Britain’s ambassador to the US.
Robinson, real name Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, was initially jailed for 10 months after breaking reporting restrictions during a criminal trial by conducting a Facebook Live broadcast outside Leeds court.
He was also sentenced to a further three months for breaching a previous suspended sentence relating to an incident at Canterbury Crown Court in May 2017.
Robinson refused to speak to journalists after leaving HMP Onley, in Northamptonshire, and accused the British press of lying.
“All the British media do is lie. I have a lot to say but nothing to you,” he told reporters.
“I want to thank the British public for all their support.”
Lord Burnett and two other judges in London quashed a finding of contempt made in May, and have ordered a fresh hearing of the allegation.
The judge ordered that there should be “silence” in the packed courtroom as he continued to read a summary of the reasons for Wednesday’s ruling.
He said that the judge who heard Robinson’s case in Leeds should not have commenced the hearing that day.
Robinson was jailed five hours after he filmed outside the court, the speed of which led to “difficulties” for his defense to investigate mitigating factors against his sentencing.
“Once the appellant had removed the video from Facebook, there was no longer sufficient urgency to justify immediate proceedings. In those circumstances it would have been preferable to adjourn, as had happened in the Canterbury proceedings,” the judgement read.
Lord Burnett further found that no details of the case against Robinson were put to him during his hearing, saying that there was “a muddle over the nature of the contempt being considered.
“There was no clarity about what the appellant was admitting or on what basis he was being sentenced.”
There were also errors in the court order which suggested Robinson had been jailed for a criminal offence, rather than for contempt of court, he said.
He added: “Errors like this have serious consequences upon the classification of prisoners, resulting in the deprivation of privileges.”
The judge also took issue with the punishment Robinson received, and criticised that it occurred so “quickly after the conduct which is complained of”.
Ukip leader Gerard Batten, who earlier this week was criticised for comparing Robinson to Nelson Mandela, Ghandi and the Suffragettes, told BBC’s Radio 4 programme today that authorities had “railroaded” Robinson into jail.
“I think it was a deliberate decision to put him away and silence him and give him an inappropriate sentence,” he said.
Batten said he wasn’t a “fan” of Robinson, but he had his “qualified support”.
He ruled out Robinson having a future role in the party because of his previous British National Party Membership and denied the party was using him to grow its support base.
About 25 Robinson supporters gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice by the time today’s ruling was made, cheering when they were notified of the judge’s decision.
A similar number of people staged a “Stand Up To Racism” protest with police separating the two groups.
Robinson supporter Vince Cawthron said outside court after the ruling: “I am quietly pleased. He could be back with his family in hours.”
Another supporter, David Scott, added: “Brilliant result. I think it’s the best we can hope for at the moment.
“Hopefully it will start a backlash against what’s gone wrong with this country.”
The jailing of the 35-year-old sparked a wave of “Free Tommy” protests across the UK, some of which turned violent.
Before the decision was reached, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said the force had “made contingencies for potential issues”.
She told The Independent: “We’ll see where the Free Tommy Robinson supporters go next and what they’re thinking next – it is a large set of people at the moment.
“We are thinking about it and will be well-prepared.”
Robinson’s lawyer, Jeremy Dein QC, argued at the hearing earlier this month that Robinson’s convictions should be quashed as there were “fundamental procedural defects” in the criminal proceedings, and that his client should be released immediately having already served two months in prison.
Dein said Robinson’s court appearance in Leeds was “unnecessarily and unfairly rushed”, with his client being arrested, sentenced and jailed within hours of his arrest.
Dein said Robinson had not acted “with impertinent defiance” and had offered to have his livestream deleted as soon as he was made aware he was in breach of court rules to “reduce any damage he had done”.
Robinson, he said, “did not intend to breach the (reporting restriction) order, even though he was aware there was an order” and was acting as a journalist at the time.
The court heard Robinson had done a media law course with law firm Kingsley Napley.
Due to being kept in solitary confinement at Onley prison, Robinson had also already suffered a “substantial loss of liberty”, Dein said, adding that his client’s sentence was “manifestly excessive”.
Robinson’s incarceration has sparked rallies across the UK, starting in Leeds on June 1, with thousands turning out to protest at his jailing.
Several rallies have taken place in London where supporters including Dutch politician and leader of the Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders, have been in attendance.
One rally led to an assault on union leader Steve Hedley. Police this month released the images of nine demonstrators they want to speak to following a rally in the capital that left 21 officers injured.
Crowds of Robinson supporters have demonstrated outside the court during his appearances dressed in “Free Tommy” hats, t-shirts and high-vis vests screen printed with his face with his mouth gagged.
Rebel media commentator, Ezra Levant, has been present at court, flying to London from Canada to report on the case because he believes the mainstream media is not doing so accurately. He recently released a “free Tommy” ring-tone.