LONDON: A British far-right figurehead and anti-Islam activist who lost a libel case against a Syrian refugee he had made unfounded accusations against on Thursday claimed he could now face bankruptcy as a result of damages and legal costs that could amount to more than $637,000.
Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, made various unsubstantiated claims about Jamal Hijazi, including that he was violent toward female students, after the teenager was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates.
Hijazi, a refugee from Homs, a city in western Syria, took Robinson to court over the accusations, which he said were inaccurate and had deeply disrupted his life.
On Thursday, a London court ordered Robinson to pay Hijazi £100,000 ($137,600) in damages and, because of the nature of the English legal system, the English Defence League founder was also on the hook for legal costs for both parties that could total more than $500,000.
Robinson said: “I’ve not got any money. I’m bankrupt. I’ve struggled hugely with my own issues these last 12 months … I ain’t got it.”
He added that he was gobsmacked by Hijazi’s legal team’s costs, which included £70,000 ($96,318) for taking witness statements.
In two videos viewed nearly 1 million times, Robinson accused Hijazi, 17, of beating a girl “black and blue” as well as threatening to stab another boy at school — both claims denied by Hijazi and unproven by Robinson.
The judge said Robinson’s accusations were “calculated to inflame the situation,” and that the abuse Hijazi was then subjected to was predictable in its nature.
“It is my responsibility to make clear that the defendant has failed in his defence of truth, to vindicate the claimant and to award him a sum in damages that represents fair compensation,” the judge added. He also warned that Robinson’s bankruptcy declaration may make it difficult to extract from him the full sum awarded by the court.
Robinson’s accusations had a “devastating effect” on the schoolboy, Hijazi’s lawyers said, and they also landed him with multiple death threats. He was forced from his home and had to abandon his education after becoming the subject of a social media storm.
The judge said: “(Robinson) is responsible for this harm, 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.”
The court also handed Hijazi an injunction against Robinson, preventing him from repeating the claims. However, Robinson said that he had been commissioned to create a film of the incident, which he pointed out had already been completed.
“It’s left for the viewer to make their mind (up) on what’s happened,” Robinson added, and he told the judge that by granting an injunction, “it will look like you are trying to prevent (the film), but the film will go out in the United States anyway, so I don’t see the point.”
Hijazi’s lawyers said they were “delighted” that the teenager had won his case.
Francesca Flood, from Burlingtons Legal, said: “It took great courage for our client, Jamal Hijazi, to pursue his libel action against such a prominent far-right and anti-Islam activist as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson.
“Jamal and his family now wish to put this matter behind them in order that they can get on with their lives.
“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,” she added.