UKIP leader Gerard Batten slammed the charges against Tommy Robinson as “bogus” as he defended his decision to appoint the former EDL frontman as an advisor on rape gangs and prison reform.
Robinson - real name Stephen Yaxley Lennon - rose to fame as the leader of the English Defence League, but has been criticised for his views on Islam and his criminal record.
Batten, who became leader of the UKIP in February 2018, was forced to defend his appointment of Robinson after criticism from former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who called for a vote of no confidence in the leader.
Talking to talkRADIO’s Matthew Wright, Batten said: “I’ve got tremendous faith in the English justice system, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make some terrible mistakes sometimes.
“If you read out his charge sheet, if you read his book Enemy of the State, people who want to do that understand a lot of these charges are not quite kosher, if I can use that word. Some of these charges are a bit bogus.”
Contempt of court charges 'a political decision'
Tommy Robinson. Image: Getty
Robinson has been jailed three times, once for assault in 2005, again in 2012 for illegally entering the US on a false passport, and once again in 2014 for mortgage fraud.
In 2017 he was handed a suspended sentence for contempt of court, for filming inside Canterbury Crown Court during a rape trial.
He was imprisoned in May this year for contempt of court for live-streaming outside a rape trial at Leeds Crown Court, upon which reporting restrictions applied, but released after he won an appeal. The case, which has been described as “complex” by the judge, was referred to the Attorney General, and Robinson’s bail conditions were lifted in November.
- Read more: Tommy Robinson: What is contempt of court, was his free speech threatened, and has he got previous convictions?
“I actually went to the court when he handed a submission to the judge,” said Batten.
“We expected to be in there all day, the judge threw it upstairs to the Attorney General, there was no contempt of court.
“There was no case to answer, it’s a political decision and Tommy may well decide to sue the people who pursued him.”
But later in the conversation, Batten admitted that the 2017 incident was down to Robinson’s “inexperience”.
“Inexperience of what?” Wright asked.
“What you can and can’t say inside a court precinct. He pleaded guilty to that. I think he got a suspended sentence.”
“So a bloke who doesn’t even have basic knowledge of the law of contempt is your adviser?” Wright challenged.
- Read more: House of Commons Speaker brands Tommy Robinson a 'loathsome, obnoxious, repellant individual'
- Read more: Gerard Batten: The EU ‘are laughing at us’ after seven resign over Theresa May's deal
“This is a couple of years ago he did this, when he was forging his career as a journalist. Now if I come back to the second one, the submission he gave to that court proved there was no contempt of court,” Batten responded, before beginning to list examples of times newspapers had been found guilty of contempt of court.
“This is diversion. Instead of looking at the crimes of your adviser you use diversion tactics to go, ‘look over there at these things which have nothing to do with what we’re talking about’,” Wright said.
“What we’re talking about is you hiring someone who has very limited knowledge of contempt of court, or deliberately pretends he has no knowledge of contempt of court because he keeps going out there trying to prejudice rape trials! That’s a disgrace.
'UKIP is not far right'
Batten added that he was “bemused” by Farage’s intervention, after the former leader said he was “appalled” by Robinson’s appointment.
“I’m slightly, how can I put it, bemused that Nigel has such concern for the party now when he walked away two years ago,” he said, and claimed to have “saved” the party under his own leadership.
“He hasn’t done anything for it in two years, it was about to disappear off the face of the earth. I saved it.”
He refuted Wright’s suggestions that UKIP was heading in a “far right” direction.
“You’re going in a very distinct new direction, some might say Nigel was right, with people like Tommy Robinson advising you personally, the signs are you’re moving far right,” said Wright.
“We’re not far right. I’ve never been far right, UKIP’s not far right, and Tommy Robinson’s not far right,” Batten responded.
“You may not like some of our policies or ideas - some people don’t like the idea that we want to leave the European Union but it’s not far right.
“I’ve never been far right. And Nigel’s known me for 26 years, whatever our disagreements over the years, neither of us would level that charge at each other.
“The reason I’ve asked Tommy to come on in this more high profile manner, is because he can help us connect with a lot more people out there.”
Wright interjected: “Racists?”
“No, that’s not fair. Whatever Tommy is, he’s not a racist, he’s never been a racist,” said Batten.
“The EDL was not racist organisation when it started, the reason he left is because it was taken over by extremists.”
Additional reporting: Cormac Connelly-Smith