Extremist told to read Jane Austen to avoid prison gets jailed as judges overturn sentence

19 January 2022, 19:04

Ben John has been jailed for two years
Ben John has been jailed for two years. Picture: Alamy/Lincolnshire Police

By Will Taylor

A former student described as a "white supremacist" who was convicted of a terror offence has been jailed, having previously been given the chance to dodge a term behind bars if he read English classics.

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Ben John, 22, was found guilty of possessing a record likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism after he was found with a copy of the Anarchist's Cookbook.

Police, who described John as holding a neo-Nazi ideology, also found videos praising Adolf Hitler, white supremacist songs and a poster of National Action, the first extreme right wing group to get banned.

He was handed a two-year suspended sentence and told to read literature such as Pride and Prejudice and A Tale of Two Cities at Leicester Crown Court in August.

When he returned to court, John told Judge Timothy Spencer: "I enjoyed Shakespeare more than I did Jane Austen but I still enjoyed Jane Austen by a degree."

But despite saying he had read famous books, John has been jailed.

Read more: White supremacist avoids jail after being told to read Jane Austen instead

The Court of Appeal heard he had been "liking" Nazi-themed content "just five days after promising the judge he had put it behind him".

Alex Chalk QC, the solicitor general, said the sentence was supposed to give "potent control" over John's rehabilitation and claimed it was unduly lenient.

Three judges hearing the case overturned his previous sentence on Wednesday, instead jailing him for two years and giving him a third year on licence.

Lord Justice Holroyde, one of the judges who heard the case, said while some offences require a mandatory year on licence, it is unlawful to combine a suspended sentence and licence period that runs longer than two years.

He said: "The judge had no power to impose a suspended sentence as he did."

The judges added that the original sentence was not unduly lenient, but found it "very" lenient. They said they only overturned the previous sentence due to the lawfulness issue.

"In those circumstances and notwithstanding the judge's understandable aim... we are satisfied that there must be a sentence of immediate imprisonment," Lord Justice Holroyde said.

The change means John has to surrender to a police station by 4pm on Thursday, and he will need to serve at least two-thirds of the two-year jail term.

Mr Chalk, reacting to the judges' decision, said: "The Government is committed to confronting terrorism in all its forms, including from the extreme right wing.

"We remain focused on disrupting the activities of the most dangerous extremists, supporting those who stand up to their hateful rhetoric, and protecting vulnerable people being drawn into terrorism."