Tommy Robinson cancels Union talk after prison recall

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Tommy Robinson, founder and former leader of the English Defence League (EDL), has been recalled to prison and will not give a scheduled talk at the Oxford Union on Thursday 23rd October.

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley Lennon, was jailed in January for 18 months for mortgage fraud but released in June. Robinson’s Facebook page states he “has been recalled back to Prison for responding to a threatening [tweet] […] in breach of his Licence conditions”.

An email from the Oxford Union to its members on 20th October confirmed that Robinson will not speak on 23rd October but, “having spoken to his lawyers” they “still hope to host Mr Robinson […] later this term”. The Union hope Robinson will appear after his recall, which they say is fixed at 28 days.

Claims have been made on Robinson’s Facebook page of a police cover-up. A post, apparently from his assistant Helen ‘Hel’ Gower, alleges that he has been recalled to prison due to the fact that the police “didn’t want him to speak at the Union […] because he was about to reveal some of their little secrets”.

An image reportedly of a text message written by Robinson shows him saying he was due to reveal “police persecution […] including bribery and blackmail” and claiming his return to prison is “to prevent [him] exposing the facts on Thursday at the Oxford Union”.

When approached for comment, Gower, who currently has control of Robinson’s Facebook and Twitter pages, confirmed that Robinson will not attend the Union.

She also stated her belief that his recall was due to Robinson “challenging Bedfordshire Police about their lack of action over all the threats […] on Twitter against him and his family,” labelling the recall an “excuse to stop Tommy attending [the Union]”. 

Bedfordshire police declined to comment on Robinson’s and Gower’s claims.

Robinson’s appearance was controversial in Oxford: Oxford Unite Against Fascism (OUAF) had written an open letter calling on the Union to withdraw his invitation. They were also organising a protest outside the Union which was scheduled to coincide with Robinson’s talk.

In the open letter, published online, OUAF criticised the Union for “contributing to a climate of Islamaphobia”.

Mayank Banerjee, President of the Oxford Union, defended the move to invite Robinson: “The Union stands by the invitation to Mr Robinson and we would like to reiterate that an invitation from the Union is not an endorsement of any particular agenda.

“The Union believes in the principle of freedom of speech and we would encourage all members who disagree with Mr Robinson to question him on his views at the event later in the term.”

While he was leader of the EDL, Robinson “organised and lead [sic] violent racist demonstrations and waged a campaign of demonisation of Muslims”, OUAF claims. Although he is no longer involved with the EDL, OUAF say he “continues to incite racial hatred against Muslims”.

The open letter had received support from Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), who signed OUAF’s letter according to the Unite Against Fascism campaign’s Facebook page. The CWU is the major trade union for those working in the communications industry and Hayes therefore represents over 200,000 people.

Robinson left the EDL in 2013 and now collaborates with Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank. However, when contacted, OUAF said they “do not believe that Robinson has changed his fascist views” and “remain opposed to any future invite”.

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