Despite presenting himself as a protector of children and women, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon has repeatedly failed to confront child sexual exploitation and abuse within his own team and amongst his supporters.
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson) has announced plans to hold a demonstration in Telford at the end of January. As well as a march, he intends to screen his self-made documentary ‘The Rape of Britain”, about the issue of on-street grooming allegedly perpetrated by Muslim men of South Asian heritage in the town.
After several years of legal woes, incarcerations, extended holidays, injunctions and bankruptcy, he is attempting to exploit the pain of survivors of child sexual exploitation (CSE) to relaunch his political career.
Not only is this whipping up local tensions, but Yaxley-Lennon’s actions are jeopardising real justice for survivors by pre-empting an ongoing independent investigation and potentially prejudicing any future trials.
However, Lennon has a long history of failing to condemn the abuse of children by his own friends and supporters. He is no ally in opposing child sexual exploitation.
There is no crime more horrific than the sexual abuse of children, and there is certainly no crime that incites so much understandable anger within our communities.
HOPE not hate have always had a zero-tolerance attitude towards child sexual exploitation (CSE) and believe the protection of children is a moral imperative, not something to be used to advance the politics of discrimination, to raise one’s personal profile or to fundraise.
As far back as 2005, years before Lennon even launched the English Defence League (EDL), we confronted the issue head on in Keighley when the British National Party were seeking to exploit it in their General Election campaign.
Later, in 2013, HNH was involved in the launch of the Community Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation which sought to develop cross-community initiatives to deal with street grooming by gangs. Between 2015 and 2017 we were active in Rotherham, putting out local community newspapers addressing the issue and calling on the government to provide more support to survivors.
We will always call out those who seek to exploit these heinous crimes, and call for justice for survivors.
There is a very long history of minority communities being framed as a sexual threat by the far right. Whether it is the centuries old blood libel or the characterisation of Jews as paedophiles before the Second World War, attacking African-Caribbean immigrants as rapists and pimps in the post-war period, and now painting Muslims as groomers, the far right have always sought to racialise sexual violence and child sexual exploitation.
None of this means that we should not confront the role that localised cultures may have played in the particular form of CSE known as on-street grooming by gangs, or hold people accountable for institutional failings. At times progressive movements and the left have been angrier about the racist and opportunistic actions of Stephen Lennon than the widespread sexual assault of young and vulnerable women.
The number of reported on-street grooming victims is shocking, and there have clearly been major systemic failings. Whether it is Telford, Rotherham or Rochdale children have been let down by police, councils, social services and the wider community. We must put justice for survivors first, as we oppose Lennon’s racist opportunism.
It is vital we take race out of the equation and focus instead on seeking justice, and addressing the deep-seated patriarchal culture that underpins these crimes which reach across all communities.
Since founding the EDL in 2009, the issue of sexual violence at the hands of Muslim men – described as ‘Rape Jihad’ – has been a mainstay for Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. However, he himself has an appalling record of confronting paedophilia and abuse within his own team and amongst his supporters. Lennon has consistently ignored or even defended occurrences of these crimes in his own ranks, proving that he is more concerned with attacking Muslims than actually combatting CSE or challenging sexual violence.
Notoriously, in June 2010 Lennon’s close friend and ally Richard Price was convicted of making four indecent images of children, and possessing cocaine and crack cocaine.[i] The vile images were found on his computer by police after he was arrested for disturbances at an EDL demonstration.
Far from condemning Price’s crimes, the EDL launched a campaign for his release. Lennon himself wholeheartedly supported Price, claiming he had been “stitched up” and that “Price has no idea how they were on his computer.”[ii] When Lennon’s claims became untenable, he switched positions and finally condemned him.
On 4 January 2011, six months after the conviction, Lennon released a statement attempting to distance himself and the EDL from Price, falsely claiming that at “no time has pricey ever been a leader of the EDL.” This was a lie, as on 4 June 2010 Lennon himself wrote that “The EDL have only this “Leadership” just for the record ….. Myself […] and Richard Price, we are the earliest founding members.” Lennon first defended a paedophile, and then lied about his association with him to protect his own and the EDL’s reputation.
For all its talk of Muslim paedophiles, the EDL was a hotbed of sex offenders. Since its formation, there have been at least 20 members and supporters convicted of child sexual exploitation offences. At least 10 of these were active in the EDL while Lennon was still leading it, and we are yet to find a single condemnation from Lennon.
Each of the following cases are perpetrators who were active in the EDL while Lennon was still leader:
Perhaps the most shocking case is that of Robert Ewing, who murdered the schoolgirl Paige Chivers after developing an “inappropriate sexual interest” in her.[iii] He was later prosecuted for abusing two other children in the 1990s.[iv] It later emerged that in 2013, Ewing wrote on Facebook, “Iv taken an interest in the EDL and iv attended a couple of demo’s.”[v]
Leigh Mcmillan, a senior EDL figure during Lennon’s time as leader who was active in the Lee Rigby campaign, was sentenced to 17 years after abusing a 10 year-old schoolgirl 100 times in the mid-1990s.[vi]
In 2010, the EDL supporter Brett Moses was given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after he plead guilty to sexual grooming.[vii]
In 2011 John Broomfield, an active EDL supporter, admitted 20 counts of making indecent images of children. After his arrest alongside six others for conspiracy to cause an explosion – charges that were later dropped – the police found 236 indecent images depicting children and babies on his computers.[viii]
Also in 2011, Michael Coates was charged with a series of sex offences, including two attempted rapes. At the time he was active in the EDL splinter group the North West Infidels (NWI). Their leader, John Shaw, confirmed he had been active in the EDL previously, writing: “He like the rest of us was edl first then NWI.”[ix]
In 2011, a gang of racists attacked Redbridge Islamic Centre. During the attack they hurled racist abuse at those inside, including repeatedly shouting “EDL”. Later it emerged that Elliot Jones, one of the attackers on that day, was convicted of trying to incite a child into sexual activity.[x]
Mark “Archie” Sleman was an EDL supporter active in London and Exeter and was known for running the Church of the Templars, which was mainly made up of EDL members. It transpired that he had been imprisoned for nine years in 1994 for the kidnap and rape of a ten-year-old girl.[xi]
In 2012 the well-known EDL member and regular demonstration attender Matthew Woodward was charged with possession of images of children as young as ten years old, and a video recording of another child.[xii]
Michael Kinnear was active in the EDL and is known to have attended a demonstration in July 2013 at which Lennon spoke.[xiii] In 2015 he was jailed after police found images on his mobile of a primary school aged girl “performing a type of striptease” and in state of undress.[xiv]
Since Lennon left the EDL in 2013, the group continued to attract support from child abusers and sex offenders, such as Bradley Daniel Alford,[xv] Alan Boulter,[xvi] Pete Gillett,[xvii] Luke Atkinson,[xviii] Dean Chambers,[xix] Bruce Cordwell,[xx] and Paul Whiteside amongst numerous others. Again, we can find no condemnations of these offenders from Lennon.
More recently, Lennon once again found himself allied with a sex offender. In June 2017, he shared a stage with William Charlton at a rally in Sunderland at an event where the sexual abuse of children was the key theme of the speeches. Lennon praised Charlton, saying ““I wouldn’t have heard of this campaign if it wasn’t for Billy,” adding “That battle has to be fought through every avenue.”[xxi] It later transpired that Charlton was found guilty of distributing an indecent photograph of a child.[xxii]
While we are not suggesting that Lennon had any knowledge of these awful crimes, we can find no examples of him condemning these supporters once their crimes came to light.
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon has long sought to use the issue of child sexual exploitation to push his racist and Islamophobic agenda, sometimes explicitly against the wishes of the survivors. He has even acted in ways that have compromised legal proceedings against perpetrators,[xxiii] further revealing he cares more about his own career than actual justice for survivors.
It is now also clear that he has no interest in calling out child abuse amongst his own supporters. We are also aware of another close long-time ally of Lennon who was jailed for underage sex offences and another with a track record of awful domestic abuse. He says he cares about survivors of abuse, but his record suggests otherwise.
Child sexual exploitation reaches across all communities, and these sickening actions involve men from all ethnic backgrounds. Lennon’s relentless exploitation of others’ pain is an insult to survivors and to those who work tirelessly to demand justice and build support services for survivors. His failure to condemn child sexual exploitation within his own ranks only highlights his hypocrisy as no ally of the pushback against CSE.
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