A British activist has been ordered to pay £100,000 in damages to a Syrian refugee for libelling him on Facebook.
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson, is the founder of the far-right English Defence League.
In October 2018 he responded online to a viral clip that showed Jamal Hijazi, then 15 years old, being attacked by fellow pupils at his school in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
In two follow-up videos seen by at least 950,000 people and shared 25,000 times, Robinson falsely claimed the teenager had previously attacked “young English girls” at his school.
In a judgement issued on Thursday, the High Court threw out Robinson’s defence of truth, finding he had “woefully” failed to prove the claims and “even added to them during the proceedings”.
Mr Justice Nicklin ordered Robinson to pay £100,000 in damages to Hijazi, as well as court costs thought to run to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Jamal Hijazi came to the UK with his family in October 2016 as part of the UK government’s Syrian refugee resettlement programme.
After the videos were posted, he said in his impact statement, he received a barrage of abuse and unwanted contact on social media, pushing him to stop using his real name.
Police told Hijazi’s family to keep all the doors and windows locked shut when he was alone in the house. But ultimately, he said, “it was unsafe to even walk to the local shops without receiving verbal abuse”.
“My family and I were forced to relocate from Huddersfield and move to a different part of the country to avoid risks to mine and my family’s safety. This caused me and my family a lot of distress and sadness as we had not long been settled within the UK.”
He also had to quit a work placement with a local pharmacist on leaving Huddersfield and could not take his GCSEs.
“The defendant is responsible for this harm,” Justice Nicklin said, “some of the scars of which, particularly the impact on the claimant’s education, are likely to last for many years, if not a lifetime.”
Robinson told the court he was bankrupt during proceedings despite having previously received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from right-wing groups in the UK.
He has been jailed twice for contempt of court for filming at UK court premises and posting prejudicial statements during criminal trials involving Muslim defendants.