LONDON — Tommy Robinson, a British far-right activist, lost a libel case Thursday filed by a teenage refugee from Syria who had been filmed being attacked at his school, after Robinson falsely claimed the boy had violently attacked classmates.
Robinson will be required to pay 100,000 pounds in damages, or about $137,000, according to the judgment handed down by Justice Matthew Nicklin during a remote session in London’s High Court. He also ordered Robinson to pay the teenager’s legal costs, which are likely to be larger than the damages.
Robinson, 38, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, founded the English Defense League, a nationalist group known for its anti-Islam and anti-immigration stance and for violent street protests. Despite being seen as on the fringes of British life, he has also become a prominent figure internationally for supporters of similar ideologies, with links to the far right in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.
The teenager, Jamal Hijazi, now 17, was filmed being attacked at his school in northern England in October 2018, and after the video spread online, Robinson claimed in two videos posted on his Facebook page that the teenager was “not innocent and he violently attacks young English girls in his school.”
In one of the clips, Robinson had said the teenager “beat a girl black and blue” and “threatened to stab” a boy at his school, which Hijazi denied. Robinson’s two posts about the video were together viewed more than 1 million times, according to court documents.
Robinson represented himself at the trial, arguing that his comments were substantively true. But the court determined Thursday that Robinson’s evidence “fell woefully short” of proving any of his allegations.
Hijazi came to Britain with his family in 2016 as refugees from the city of Homs in Syria, according to court documents. His lawyers argued that the posts by Robinson had a devastating impact on the teenager and had led to death threats.
In his decision, Nicklin reaffirmed that idea, noting that Hijazi “became the target of abuse which ultimately led to him and his family having to leave their home, and the claimant to have to abandon his education.” The judge determined that Robinson’s posts were “calculated to inflame the situation,” after the initial video of the attack on Hijazi became a focus of public discussion in Britain.
Scars from what Robinson had done and particularly its effects on Hijazi’s education were likely to last “for many years, if not a lifetime,” the judge added.
Reacting to the decision, Francesca Flood, one of the lawyers representing Hijazi, said that the firm was “delighted that Jamal has been entirely vindicated.”
“Jamal and his family now wish to put this matter behind them in order that they can get on with their lives,” she said in a statement. “They do, however, wish to extend their gratitude to the great British public for their support and generosity, without which this legal action would not have been possible.”
The court also granted an injunction against Robinson, ordering him not to post or publish similar allegations against Hijazi. The judge said that based on statements Robinson had made in court, the activist intended to “repeat a large part of the evidence that has been heard in this trial and the allegations” made against the teenager.
After the decision was handed down, Robinson told the judge that his own financial struggles would make it impossible to pay the required court costs, or probably the damages.
“The cost is shocking,” he said. “The other point is, I don’t have any money, I’m bankrupt. I’ve struggled hugely with my own issues these past 12 months.”
Robinson also said that he had recently made a film with an American broadcaster that revisited the incident and asked whether the injunction would affect that, to which the judge said he was not there to offer advice on the legality of the film.
Robinson is no stranger to England’s legal system. He has several past criminal convictions, including for violence, public order offenses, disobeying court orders and fraud. In 2019, he was found guilty of contempt of court and jailed after filming outside a court in Leeds that had a news media blackout.
He has served four stints in prison and has been banned from Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for breaching the social media platforms’ guidelines.
Facebook, in a 2019 blog post, explained that it had removed his accounts after posts that “violate our policies around organized hate.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.