'Bullied' teenage Syrian refugee sues Tommy Robinson over Facebook videos

21 April 2021, 16:28 | Updated: 21 April 2021, 16:31

Tommy Robinson has represented himself in court
Tommy Robinson has represented himself in court. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

Tommy Robinson's "distorted anti-Muslim message" about a "bullied" Syrian schoolboy led to the boy and his family receiving death threats and having to relocate, the High Court has heard.

Jamal Hijazi, now 17, was filmed being attacked in the playground at Almondbury School in Huddersfield in November 2018.

The video went viral and Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, claimed in two Facebook videos viewed nearly a million times that Jamal was "not innocent and he violently attacks young English girls at school".

The 38-year-old English Defence League founder also claimed Jamal "beat a girl black and blue" and "threatened to stab" a boy at the school – allegations the teenager denies.

Jamal has now sued Robinson, and on the first day of the libel trial in London, his lawyer said Mr Robinson's comments "turned Jamal into the aggressor, and the bully into a righteous white knight".

Robinson, representing himself, defends his comments on the basis they are substantially true.

Catrin Evans QC, representing Jamal, said in written submissions that the allegations had a "devastating effect on Jamal and his family", which led to them relocating in 2019.

Read more: Asylum seekers 'removed from Britain without having cases properly heard'

The teenage claimant fled Homs, in Syria, with his family
The teenage claimant fled Homs, in Syria, with his family. Picture: Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

She said Robinson is "a well-known extreme-right advocate with convictions for violence, as well as fraud and drug offences" and claimed he used Facebook and social media to "spread his extremist views".

Robinson "falsely accused Jamal" and did so "without any direct knowledge of the events in question", she added.

Jamal told the court: "I am not the person he says I am and I am bringing this claim to show the truth and who the real Jamal is.

"I am a positive person and always have been, I want to correct people's opinions who have just watched the video so that they know I am not the person the defendant says I am."

Read more: Priti Patel to promise reforms to 'fundamentally broken' UK asylum system

Jamal Hijazi is suing Tommy Robinson
Jamal Hijazi is suing Tommy Robinson. Picture: PA

The court heard Jamal was bullied shortly after starting school in October 2016, having fled from Homs in Syria, a city devastated by the civil war.

Ms Evans said the bullying culminated in a series of incidents in 2018, including "serious threats" to Jamal. There was a "simulated waterboarding" when a bottle of water was poured over his face while he was on the ground, the lawyer added.

After footage of that went viral, it led to mass media coverage and national support for Jamal, but Robinson then posted the allegations to "to his million social media followers", Ms Evans said.

These were "apparently based only on material posted on, and subsequently deleted from, social media", she added.

Robinson, cross-examining Jamal, said his school life sounded "miserable", which Jamal agreed with.

Jamal said that he felt "shock and embarrassment" after the video went viral and said he "couldn't sleep for two nights".

He added that he was "dreaming of somebody stabbing me, I was really scared at the time".

Asked by Robinson whether he was planning to sue Almondbury School, Jamal replied: "Yes, I'm going to."

In written submissions, Robinson said he had "uncovered dozens of accounts of aggressive, abusive and deceitful behaviour by the claimant, including acts which speak the truth to the matters complained of" in written submissions to the court.

In reference to the alleged "waterboarding" incident, Robinson wrote: "Not only was the claimant the bully and not the victim in this incident, he has subsequently been shown to be the aggressor on multiple occasions, indulging in violent and abusive behaviour."

The case, which is expected to last eight days, continues.