'I am not racist or anti-Muslim', Tommy Robinson tells High Court in libel case

22 April 2021, 16:44 | Updated: 22 April 2021, 16:53

Tommy Robinson arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice
Tommy Robinson arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice. Picture: PA

By Harriet Whitehead

Tommy Robinson has told the High Court he is "not racist" and "certainly not anti-Muslim," after a libel claim bought against him continues.

The English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is being sued by schoolboy Jamal Hijazi, 17, who was filmed being attacked at his Huddersfield school in October 2018.

Shortly after the video went viral, Robinson claimed on two Facebook videos that Mr Hijazi was "not innocent and he violently attacks young English girls in his school".

Robinson is representing himself at the trial and is defending his comments on the grounds they are substantially true.

Starting his case on Thursday, Robinson told the High Court that Mr Hijazi’s lawyers had mischaracterised him and the EDL.

Robinson said: "Their opening statement, which was a blatant attack on my character, is boringly predictable."

In his written arguments, Robinson claimed to have "uncovered dozens of accounts of aggressive, abusive and deceitful behaviour" by the 17-year-old.

Syrian schoolboy Jamal Hijazi, 17 (right)
Syrian schoolboy Jamal Hijazi, 17 (right). Picture: PA

The 38-year-old told the court the EDL had been classed as a centrist group and he had worked with an anti-extremism group for five years.

"For what it's worth, I am not racist, and I am certainly not anti-Muslim," he said.

Robinson later said the media had been in a "frenzy" over the incident and had failed to report "the other side".

He added: "I only reported what I was told. That is all I'm doing here in this court, looking for the truth."

In the Facebook videos, viewed by nearly a million people, Robinson made claims including that Mr Hijazi "beat a girl black and blue", which the teenager denies.

The English Defence League founder
The English Defence League founder. Picture: PA

On Thursday, the High Court heard evidence from Bailey McLaren, the boy shown pushing Mr Hijazi to the ground and pouring water over him in the widely shared video.

Mr McLaren, who is now 18 and was a student at Almondbury Community School with Mr Hijazi, told the court he had been in trouble at school but was not a bully.

He said: "I would say that if I was physical, I would have to be provoked into it. There would have to be a reason and it would have to (be) a strong reason."

Robinson asked: "Looking at your school record, were you a bully?"

The teenager replied: "No. I can't stand bullying - from a young age I was affected by it. The mainstream media painted it out that I was a bully."

"Are you a racist?" Robinson asked.

Mr McLaren replied: "Not at all. The incident with Jamal had nothing to do with race."

In his witness statement, Mr McLaren claimed Mr Hijazi was "a strange boy". He wrote: "Pupils and staff alike were fully aware that Jamal had a real problem with girls and even with female staff and that he was abusive towards them. You would hear from time to time that Jamal was bullying young girls and stuff."

READ MORE: 'Bullied' teenage Syrian refugee sues Tommy Robinson over Facebook videos

On the day of the incident in October 2018, Mr McLaren told the court there had been a confrontation between him and Mr Hijazi, adding: "He told me to 'f*** off, you white bastard'."

Mr McLaren also said he was told by another student that Mr Hijazi had threatened to stab him, which is denied.

On Wednesday, Mr Hijazi's barrister Catrin Evans QC described Robinson's defence as "a cobbled-together mix of generalised smears of Jamal's character", saying "there is simply no merit to the defendant's defence of truth".

In cross-examination on Thursday afternoon, Ms Evans said Mr McLaren was "regularly in trouble" for serious bullying including intimidation and physical assaults.

READ MORE: Tommy Robinson handed interim stalking ban after 'threatening journalist and her partner'

Ms Evans suggested Mr McLaren was part of a gang of students who often targeted Mr Hijazi.

She said: "Jamal was one of your regular victims of bullying and you were the ringleader of the group that bullied him."

Mr McLaren replied: "I think if anyone was the bully, it was Jamal."

The trial before Mr Justice Nicklin is due to conclude on Monday and it is expected that he will give his ruling at a later date.

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