The leader of far-Right group Britain First Paul Golding was fined £1,000 yesterday after a judge upheld his conviction for distributing a racist or insulting leaflet about immigrants.
His co-accused, 30-year-old Belfast man Lee Daniel Brown, was handed a £100 fine after Judge Donna McColgan QC also affirmed his conviction.
Delivering her judgment at Antrim County Appeal Court, Judge McColgan said it was her view that the leaflet, which had been written by 38-year-old Golding, "crossed the boundary" over the right for freedom of expression so "in essence, I'm in agreement with the District Judge and therefore dismiss the appeal against conviction".
At the end of an earlier hearing at Ballymena Magistrates Court last June Golding, with an address at Dartford in Kent, and Brown, from Shore Crescent in north Belfast, were convicted of distributing material which was likely to stir up hatred or arouse fear on October 20, 2018.
Golding was also convicted of possessing the written material which was "abusive or insulting" on October 28, 2018.
Golding had visited Ballymena in relation to Britain First rallies planned in the town, but at the centre of the case was a leaflet being handed out which had the title 'Stop the influx of migrants into Ballymena... now!'.
That leaflet, penned by Golding, made false claims about immigrants being given housing and benefits and invited people to attend a Britain First rally in Ballymena and to "put pressure" on their politicians.
Having convicted the pair, District Judge Nigel Broderick handed Golding a three-month prison sentence, which he suspended for two years, and ordered Brown to complete a year on probation, commenting that while he accepted the leaflet was "not explicitly threatening", it met the test that it was likely to stir up hatred and fear.
Both Golding and Brown appealed the convictions and their sentences, and during the hearing yesterday their lawyers argued that while the language of the leaflet "could be held to be offensive and... may not be PC", its actual aim was to invite people to a rally rather than being a "call to arms".
Golding's defence counsel Mark Farrell submitted the leaflet was designed "effectively to highlight a perfectly legitimate political issue concerning immigration", conceding that while the language of it "is not parliamentary... it's unpleasant... political expression enjoys the highest degree of protection under the convention".
Rejecting the appeal on the convictions and affirming the lower court's ruling, Judge McColgan said it was clear such freedoms "come with responsibilities".
"I'm satisfied, having considered all the materials placed before me... that having regard to the right to freedom of expression, both at common law and under the convention, the contents of the leaflet have crossed the boundary," the judge said.
The convictions having been upheld, Mr Farrell asked the judge to consider replacing Golding's suspended sentence with a financial penalty, revealing as leader of Britain First, which the lawyer said "is a full-time job", he draws down an annual salary of £30,000, which comes from the groups "few hundred thousand supporters and donors".
Andrew Moriarity, acting on behalf of Brown, said his client was unemployed.
Imposing £500 fines on each of Golding's offences and £100 for Brown's offence, the judge said she was making a distinction due to the men's incomes.
While Brown declined to comment outside the court, Golding labelled his conviction as a "dark day for freedom of speech".