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Former British boxing champion cleared of Syria trip plot

Published 28/07/2015

Anthony Small, 33, denied trying to travel to Syria
Anthony Small, 33, denied trying to travel to Syria

A former British boxing champion accused of putting his boxing gloves and championship belt on eBay to raise cash to join Islamic State (IS) is one of three Muslim converts cleared of plotting to travel to Syria.

Anthony Small, 33, who boxed under the alias Sugar Ray Clay Jones Jr, was arrested after two other men, Michael Coe, 34, and Simon Keeler, 44, were found with false documents in the back of a lorry at the Kent port of Dover on November 30.

Small, who won the British and Commonwealth light middleweight championships in 2009, was not with the pair after breaking his hand two days earlier, jurors heard.

He was also accused of publishing an online article called Attacks By Muslims In Perspective, giving an address entitled Why the Islamic State is rejected, and publishing a recording of a speech called "Another James Foley beheading".

The jury deliberated for nearly 50 hours to find all three British Muslim converts not guilty of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts.

Small was found not guilty of disseminating terrorist publications and supporting a proscribed organisation.

He was also cleared with Coe of conspiracy to possess false identity documents with improper intention.

Coe and Keeler have already admitted possessing the documents and will be sentenced at a later date.

The prosecution was given until Friday to decide whether to pursue a final charge against Small of supporting a terrorist organisation which the jury could not agree on.

The defendants smiled and nodded as the not guilty verdicts were delivered and laughed as they left the dock.

A ll three men are said to be close associates of radical preacher Anjem Choudary - founder of the banned organisation Al-Muhajiroun.

The court had heard Small was arrested at his sister's address on December 4 after receiving hospital treatment for his fractured hand.

Among the items found at his home address was a hand-held sword and an image of the British Isles covered by an Isis flag, jurors heard.

He had previously listed a number of pairs of Lonsdale boxing gloves and a pair of Adidas boxing boots on the online auction website eBay in September.

Small had also tried to sell a championship belt but there were questions from potential buyers about whether it was genuine, prosecutor Richard Whittam QC said.

The former boxer had not received any false travel documents but they were in the process of being arranged by the same people who helped Coe and Keeler, the prosecution said.

Both Small and Coe had previously been photographed at a demonstration on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the jury was told.

Coe, a married father of one, converted to Islam in 2007 and attended a number of demonstrations including protests over the banning of niqabs in France and the values of Sharia law, Mr Whittam said.

Keeler, who is also married with children, had spoken out in favour of a "universal Muslim state founded on Sharia law", and accepted his religious views were considered "outside the mainstream by many people in the Western world", he added.

Meanwhile, Keeler's wife and five children had flown from the UK to Turkey via Zurich in October but not returned.

Coe and Keeler would visit a kebab shop where they were said to have obtained their false documents, the court heard.

The pair were found in the back of the lorry on November 30 with 18 other people who were dealt with by immigration authorities.

The three defendants, who live at addresses across east London, denied the charges against them.

During police interviews, Coe told officers he was intending to visit his wife in Sweden when he was arrested, while Keeler said he was "desperate" to see his wife in Turkey, Mr Whittam said.

Small told police he had "never" supported people who encouraged terrorism and his videos could not be interpreted as supporting terrorism.

Giving evidence in court, he explained away the videos by comparing them with "antics" he used in his boxing career to get his message across by whipping up controversy.

He also denied trying to travel to Syria, saying he was trying to visit his Turkish ex-wife on urgent family business.

In December 2013, all three men who openly supported Sharia Law were involved in a protest in Brick Lane, east London, in which they waved posters and tried to encourage Muslim shopkeepers to stop selling alcohol, the court heard.

Keeler was jailed for four and a half years in 2008 for making rabble-rousing speeches in a central London mosque.

Coe was converted to Islam by al Qaida terrorist Dhiren Barot while serving an eight-year term for threatening police with a shotgun while on bail.

The three defendants appeared at the Old Bailey today.

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