The well-known political Activist known as Tommy Robinson loses High Court Libel Trial
On 25 October 2018, a short innocuous altercation between two pupils led to a libel action in the High Court.
Both parties to the ‘fight’ were attending Almondbury Community School, Huddersfield. The Claimant, Jamal Hijazi, was 15, and the attacker, Bailey McLaren, was 16. The incident was recorded by another pupil, with the video showing Bailey approach Jamal and call him out multiple times, while Jamal ignored him. The attacker then grabs Jamal by the throat, forces him to the ground, and pours a bottle of water over his face whilst shouting “I’ll drown you”. Upon releasing him, the Jamal simply stands up and walks away. At no point did he submit any form of violence or retaliation. The recording begins before the attack, implying an element of premeditation, as the student must have known what was about to occur.
This recording was shared amongst pupils at the school, and soon went viral. Upon the Claimant’s parents seeing this video, they reported the incident to the police, with the belief that this was a racially motivated attack on the victim who was a Syrian refugee and Muslim. The Claimant, now 18, and his family migrated to the UK in 2016 after being granted refugee settlement status under the Syrian vulnerable person resettlement programme. When initially joining the school, his English was assessed as very poor. Jamal is said to have been subject to bullying throughout his time at Almondbury, and although he was unable to clearly translate most of the comments made, the Police had been involved following previous attacks against his race and religion.
On the morning of the incident, Jamal had swore at Bailey due to the belief he had deliberately stepped on his coat. As a result, Bailey shouted at Jamal, grabbing him by the throat. When the teacher intercepted the pair, Bailey threatened to kill Jamal, who responded “F off”, and was then met with “I will stab you with a knife”. The attacker claims that the Claimant called him a *white bastard* and laughed at his stutter, triggering the incident. The attacker nonetheless accepted a police caution for common assault.
The Defendant in this case is a well-known public figure, Tommy Robinson, who used his platform to speak out on the matter, making two separate videos stating his views on the incident. The first states how the Claimant – along with a group of Muslim girls – was involved in ‘beating up’ a young girl, which has not been covered by the media, despite the family of the young girl making them aware of the incident. He argues that Jamal has been falsely labelled a victim by the media, simply because he is Syrian. The second video reiterates how there is no valid reason for the media to cover one incident and not the other, and for the school to expel the Claimant’s attacker but not the Muslim attackers of the young girl, noting the alleged levels of violence from Muslims present when he was at school himself. The school refused to report the incident with the young girl to the police.
The Claimant commenced his claim for libel on 15 May 2019. The Defendant has admitted that the requirements of s 1 Defamation Act 2013 are met – causing serious harm to reputation. Originally, the Defendant advanced a defence of truth to the Claimant’s claim under s 2 of the 2013 Act, subsequently applying to add a further defence of public interest under s 4 which was refused. A number of incidents of alleged physical and verbal aggression demonstrated by the Claimant towards pupils were relied upon by the Defendant in support of the defence of truth, including the Claimant allegedly stabbing a pupil with a sharp-pointed object, attacking young girls, and threatening to stab his attacker. In this case, however, the judge held all incidents to be unsatisfactorily proven by the Defendant, thus rejected as evidence. The Defendant’s truth defence was ultimately refused, and the claim was granted to the Claimant.
The Defendant was initially represented by solicitors, but later began representing himself after being declared bankrupt.
At trial, the Claimant and his father gave evidence. The Defendant did not give evidence, but called five witnesses (all of which were Almondbury pupils at the relevant time) in support of his defence. School records were used as further documented evidence – a method of assessing witness credibility. The Defendant wished to rely upon video recordings as hearsay evidence upon the Court’s discretion as to its weighting, though the Court decided that, in this case, little weight was to be attached to such evidence due to only selective snippets of hearsay being submitted.
The Defendant’s allegations against the Claimant were very serious and published widely, causing severe harm to the Claimant’s reputation by portraying him as a violent aggressor. It could be predicted that such allegations would lead to the Claimant becoming the target of abuse, leading to him and his family having to leave their home and forcing the Claimant to abandon his education. The impact of this is likely to last this family a lifetime. For this reason, the judge awarded £100,000 in damages, with the issue of whether to award an injunction to be later reviewed upon further evidence.
 Lachaux v Lachaux  4 WLR 57.
 Civil Evidence Act 1995, s 4.
 Hourani v Thomson  EWHC 432 (QB)  (Warby J).