Ben John, 21, was convicted by a jury at Leicester Crown Court on 11th August 2021 of possessing information likely to be useful for preparing an act of terror — a charge that carries a maximum jail sentence of fifteen years. The prosecution told the court that the former De Montfort University student, who had collated 67,788 documents which contained a large quantity of National Socialist, white supremacist and antisemitic material, as well as information relating to a Satanic organisation, had previously failed to heed warnings by counter-terrorism officers. Lincolnshire Police had also said that Mr John “had become part of the Extreme Right Wing (XRW) online, and was studying Criminology with Psychology in Leicester when he was arrested”.
Nevertheless, Judge Timothy Spencer QC said that he believed that Mr John’s crime was likely to be an isolated incident and “an act of teenage folly”. He labelled Mr John as a “lonely individual with few if any true friends” who was “highly susceptible” to recruitment by others more prone to action. Judge Spencer went on to say that he was “not of the view that harm was likely to have been caused.”
Instead of jail, Judge Spencer instructed Mr John to return to him every four months in order to be tested on his reading of classic literature, urging him to read Dickens, Shakespeare, Austen, Trollope and Hardy. Mr John was also handed a two-year jail sentence suspended for two years plus a further year on licence, monitored by the probation service. Mr John was also given a five-year Serious Crime Prevention Order requiring him to stay in touch with the police and let them monitor his online activity and up to 30 days on a Healthy Identity Intervention programme.
Campaign Against Antisemitism and other groups condemned the sentence as a dangerous joke, and the Attorney General asked the Court of Appeal to review the “unduly lenient” sentence.
Earlier this month, Mr John appeared before the same judge to be tested on his reading. This was after an interview with Scout News in December, in which Mr John reportedly indicated that he had not even begun the reading. The Court of Appeal heard that Mr John had resumed his interest in far-right extremism within days of the original sentence last year. The Solicitor General, Alex Chalk QC, told the court: “We now know that within a week of giving an apparently sincere promise to the judge, he resumed his interest in the far-right. He began liking Nazi posts online and other extremist activity five days after promising the judge he had put it behind him.” He added that “some of the material accessed as recently as this month is very troubling.”
In handing down judgement today, Lord Justice Holroyde said that the original judge’s intention to avoid having to jail Mr John was “understandable”, but concluded that “we are satisfied there must be a sentence of immediate imprisonment.”
Mr John was today therefore jailed for two years with a one-year extended licence. He will be eligible for release after spending two thirds of his prison sentence.
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “We know from hard experience that sometimes it takes time to get justice, but Ben John has today finally received an appropriate custodial sentence. The Attorney General was absolutely right to ask the Court of Appeal to review the pathetic original sentence. It was inexplicable that a man who collected nearly 70,000 neo-Nazi and terror-related documents could entirely avoid prison for crimes that carry a maximum jail term of fifteen years. Instead, Ben John left court with a mere suspended sentence and some English homework.
“The British public can sleep safer tonight knowing that the Court of Appeal has shown sense, rectified the alarming joke of a sentence originally handed down to Mr John, and jailed a dangerous individual.”
Campaign Against Antisemitism has been monitoring and acting against the threat from the far-right for years and continues to support the authorities following suit.
Image credit: Lincolnshire Police