Belfast Telegraph

Lindy McDowell on Northern Ireland's 'look-at-me loudmouth Tommy Robinsons'

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, outside court this week
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, outside court this week

By Lindy McDowell

Prat of the week - despite being up against considerable competition this week, the title has to go to Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, self-styled victim of injustice and oppression who has been jailed for contempt of court (ie endangering a major court case against paedophiles). Yaxley-Lennon, who has adopted the alias Tommy Robinson, entered the court for sentencing amid a throng of excited fans and wearing a T-shirt claiming that he had been "Convicted of Journalism".

Tommy Robinson - his only crime was journalism?

Convicted of plonkerism and stupidity might be closer to the mark.

Yaxley-Robinson had previously served three months in prison in May last year after a court had first found him guilty of contempt.

He'd posted online a video taken outside a court which had been hearing a case against members of a paedophile ring. The film showed the defendants. But reporting restrictions had been applied so as not to prejudice another linked court action.

Ignorance of the law - or contempt for it - is a recurring theme on social media. Including here in Northern Ireland, where even public figures who should know better have posted comments while court proceedings are still sub judice.

As any bona fide journalist knows, reporting restrictions are there for a reason. Robinson's action could well have led to the case collapsing and the accused, who were subsequently convicted, walking free.

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But then Robinson's "journalism", as he likes to think of it, has never been about the story.

It's always been about him.

Robinson appealed against his earlier conviction and a new hearing was ordered. This week he was sentenced to a nine-month term which, due to time served and the vagaries of the justice system, actually means he will serve around 10 weeks.

Or, perhaps, face execution?

As he was awaiting sentencing Robinson went into a bit of a tailspin for a boy who styles himself a hard man...

"I feel like I'm two days away from being sentenced to death in the UK for journalism. Today, I am calling on the help of Donald Trump, his administration and the Republican Party to grant me and my family political asylum in the United States of America... I need evacuation from this country because dark forces are at work."

Where is the Ecuadorian embassy when you need it?

Robinson has, of course, got previous. He now has a dozen convictions ranging from assault to mortgage fraud, from a drugs offence to travelling on someone else's passport.

Obviously none of this overly troubles his supporters, who approve of his extremist anti-Islamic, anti-Semitic, racist, far-Right rabble-rousing. They are due to gather today outside his prison to "protest". Because Tommy told them to.

Previously a member of the BNP and leader of the English Defence League, Robinson has been a voice-piece for nationalistic extremism for many years, although he has done more handbrake turns on what he actually appears to believe than Jeremy Clarkson on the test track. The one thing that has remained constant throughout has been his dedication to self-promotion.

Tommy Robinson is, above all, an attention seeker. That doesn't mean he isn't the dangerous agitator many have accused him of being.

But Robinson isn't primarily motivated by belief in a cause. It's all about him.

Swaggering through supporters outside court this week, smug-faced little Tommy was lapping up the attention, posturing as the big man.

He isn't. He's just another look-at-me loudmouth.

And he's not alone there.

Listening to some public figures and a quick glance across social media in this fractious week in Northern Ireland shows we're not short of a similar tendency here either. The self-important shouters and stirrers on both sides ratcheting up tension to make themselves look tough.

The word that springs to mind begins with gob and rhymes with blight.

Like Tommy Robinson - contemptible.

Only in America... but let's all hope IVF blunder could not happen here

America has been rocked this week by a story which tears at the heart and will be particularly distressing for anyone who's ever availed of IVF.

A Korean-American couple who'd sought treatment in a private fertility clinic were thrilled when the wife became pregnant with twins - but a little baffled when told the scans showed the babies were boys.

They'd been told their embryos were female. The twins were born. But it was immediately obvious that neither was the same ethnicity as the new parents. Tests were carried out, which showed that not only were the babies not related to the couple, they weren't related to each other either.

The real biological mother and father of one of the two babies have spoken this week about their anguish at learning that their son had been born to another woman.

They hadn't seen their child until he was six weeks old.

Worse, they also now fear that other children of theirs may have been born to other mothers.

Meanwhile, you can only imagine the torment of the poor woman - and her husband - who carried the twins and give birth to them. Three couples have been devastated. Everybody is suing. But money will never make this right.

In America, controls around private facilities offering fertility treatment appear to be lax. So this may not even be a unique case. You'd like to think the system here would never allow for such a mix-up.

Only in America - that's what we used to say about particularly shocking stories from that side of the pond.

Only in America. Let's hope...

Hypocrisy of online snipers

Apropos sectarian nastiness being spouted online this week, I've noticed a couple of posters who give the impression they'd very much see themselves as embracing the "equality" agenda - yet sneering at online opponents re "your gay King Billy". So what if he was gay?

The way it's been thrown out here you do get the distinct impression the description is intended as derogatory.

Surely not?

Don’t ask, or truth may offend

Feedback. You can't buy anything or avail of any service these days but you're asked for feedback. In other words, an appeal for a kind review. Occasionally I have composed in my head - I think most people do - feedback that is so excoriating it would send other customers running. But businesses seem to assume feedback will always be glowing and positive. I wouldn't count on it. I doubt I'm the only one who sometimes thinks on seeing that request for feedback: "Don't tempt me."

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