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Troll gets maximum jail term for harassing MP as judge recalls Jo Cox murder

A "vile" troll who harassed a Labour politician in a string of anti-Jewish rants has been handed the maximum two-year jail sentence to send a message "loud and clear" in the wake of the murder of fellow MP Jo Cox.

Joshua Bonehill-Paine, 24, posted five hate-filled blogs "of the worst kind" about MP Luciana Berger in support of a jailed far-right extremist.

His harassment of the Liverpool MP came months before Mrs Cox, 41, was shot and stabbed by a neo-Nazi fanatic who had trawled far-right websites in his local library.

Jailing Bonehill-Paine, Mr Justice Spencer highlighted Ms Berger's evidence in which she told jurors that she feared for her safety because she "knew what happened online did not always stay online".

The judge said: "Subsequent tragic events this year in relation to her fellow Member of Parliament, Jo Cox, illustrate this truth."

The jury at the Old Bailey found Bonehill-Paine guilty of racially aggravated harassment on Wednesday following a three-day trial.

The court heard he had a history of posting abuse on his "obnoxious" online newspaper leaving a trail of devastation in the lives of those he chose to "pick a dispute" with.

While he was posting abusive blogs on Ms Berger, Bonehill-Paine, of Yeovil, Somerset, was on bail awaiting sentence for making false claims on Twitter that several people were paedophiles.

And while on police bail over the blogs, he stirred up racial hatred in a flyer for a neo-Nazi rally in Golders Green, north London.

He was jailed for three years and four months last December for the ad illustrated with a picture of Nazi death camp Auschwitz which promised "an absolute gas".

Mr Justice Spencer told the defendant he had "amassed a formidable record of hate crime" at the age of just 24.

While he took into account he was due for release on April 28 2017, a consecutive sentence was "fully justified" for the unrepentant defendant who "smirked" through his trial.

The judge told him: "I am satisfied that this was gravely oppressive racially aggravated harassment of the worst kind, intended to cause her alarm and distress.

"The message needs to go out loud and clear that racial hate crime, where the intention is to harass the victim will be dealt with very severely, and deterrence must be an important element of your sentence."

The judge also imposed a criminal behaviour order which carries a penalty of up to five years in jail to curb his internet activities.

Under the order, to be enforced by police upon his release, Bonehill-Paine is barred from contacting directly or indirectly Ms Berger, her former assistant and other named individuals.

The judge said: "It is abundantly clear from all the evidence in the case and the material I have been provided with that he is tenacious in his use of the internet as a retaliatory weapon against anyone with whom he wishes to pick a dispute."

Bonehill-Paine launched his attack on Ms Berger in retaliation for a four-week jail sentence for Garron Helm, then 21, from Merseyside, in October 2014.

Helm had admitted sending a picture on Twitter depicting her with a holocaust-era Star of David on her forehead and the hashtag "Hitler was right".

Between October 2014 and January 2015, Bonehill-Paine posted articles online calling her a "dominatrix" and "an evil money-grabber" with a "deep-rooted hatred of men".

He illustrated his posts with offensive pictures, including the anti-Jewish cliche of a rat with Ms Berger's face superimposed on it.

Bonehill-Paine hailed the "Filthy Jew Bitch Campaign" led by US white supremacist site Daily Stormer as "fantastically successful" after the MP was sent 2,500 tweets.

His criminal past dating back to the age of 15 also included convictions for punching and throwing keys at carers, stabbing holes in a wall with a knife, fraud, being racially abusive, and assaulting an officer while stealing a police uniform.

In 2013, he wrote on his website that the owners of a Leicestershire pub had "out of respect for the Islamic community" banned members of the armed forces.

It resulted in threats of arson and criminal damage and led to the pub's closure to protect staff.

Prosecutor Philip Stott summarised a victim impact statement from Ms Berger in which she described the effect on her work and personal life as well as on her worried partner, staff and colleagues.

He said: "She states that before this happened she was an active, busy person who went about her daily life without concern.

"She deals with it very much in the context of receiving thousands of anti-Semitic and Nazi tweets and messages since the imprisonment of Garron Helm in October 2014."

She described it as "very difficult emotionally" to view the messages depicting her as "devils, rats, witches and aliens" as well as clothed as a "Jewish concentration camp prisoner".

As well as being called "many disgusting names", she had also received death threats during the course of the hate campaign led by the Daily Stormer.

Mr Stott said she did not feel safe to travel and her partner had been left feeling "worried and helpless" in the face of the barrage of abuse.

Ms Berger described herself as a "proud Brit" who was particularly upset at being labelled "anti-British" by the Filthy Jew Bitch campaign.

She told how she had to cancel events because of the "fear factor of being out by herself" while just going through all the messages was "time-consuming".

Mr Stott said she had reduced her presence on social media, even though it is an important aspect of her work as an MP.

He told the court: "Now when she posts things, she is worried she will receive anti-Semitic abuse as a result."

Bonehill-Paine's sentence comes just two weeks after neo-Nazi Thomas Mair was handed a whole life sentence for murdering mother-of-two Mrs Cox.

Stephen Silverman, of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: "Joshua Bonehill-Paine conducted a vile campaign of harassment against Luciana Berger based exclusively on the fact that she is Jewish.

"In so doing, he abused her with many well-worn anti-Semitic tropes that have been employed across centuries to justify the persecution of Jews.

"These included the Jew as Christ killer, the Jew as sexually deviant, the Jew as vermin and the Jew as a grasping money-grabber.

"This sentence should stand as a warning to those currently riding the wave of resurgent anti-Semitism that this kind of hateful behaviour is criminal, and that it will be severely dealt with by the law."

Detective Constable Claire Starr, the investigating officer from Scotland Yard, said: "No-one should put up with harassment and racial abuse and I would urge any victims of such crime to report them to police.

"Bonehill-Paine is a prolific offender who uses the internet to target innocent people and destroy lives, and I am pleased that today he has received a further two-year jail term to add to the sentence he is currently serving."

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