The defendant in a criminal case that resulted from first-of-its-kind litigation by Campaign Against Antisemitism has been handed an absurdly lenient sentence today at Southwark Crown Court which we are appealing to the Attorney General’s Office, which has the power to refer sentences for certain offences, which she believes to be unduly lenient, to the Court of Appeal.
The eighteen-month sentence, suspended for two years, was the culmination of first-of-its-kind litigation by Campaign Against Antisemitism to unmask an anonymous antisemitic online troll.
When the defendant was unmasked as a result of our litigation, we realised that he was a repeat offender with a long history of obsessive antisemitic harassment. He had committed the offences, for which he was today sentenced, whilst apparently already subject to a suspended sentence for other antisemitic offences. This would appear to demonstrate his contempt for the supposedly deterrent suspended sentences that he had already been handed.
Nonetheless, instead of going directly to prison, the defendant, Nicholas Nelson, 32, was instead ordered to undertake just 30 days of rehabilitation activity and 220 hours of unpaid community service. He must also pay a modest victim surcharge and is subject to a restraining order.
Handing down the suspended sentence, referring to Mr Nelson’s “horrible tirades”, Judge Charles Gratwicke said that the defendant was “not the person you were two or three years ago.” However, he accepted that “Nobody sitting here in this courtroom who has read the newspaper can feel anything but revulsion, sickness and downright anger at the type of hate that you engaged in.”
Mr Nelson had pleaded guilty at Peterborough Crown Court in January to racially aggravated harassment under section 31(1)(b) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and with sending an electronic communication with intent to cause distress or anxiety under 1(1)(a) of the Malicious Communications Act 1988, after he repeatedly sent abusive antisemitic e-mails and messages to Oscar-nominated Jewish writer Lee Kern and hateful messages to communications strategist Joanne Bell, and harassing a staff member at the Board of Deputies, a Jewish charity, over the telephone.
Mr Kern contacted Campaign Against Antisemitism, which funded a case on his behalf led by Mark Lewis, the esteemed lawyer who is also an Honorary Patron of Campaign Against Antisemitism.
The abusive communications came from accounts that Mr Nelson had worked hard to make anonymous. Victims of abuse from anonymous accounts usually have nowhere to go, because only rarely will the police track down the sender, and the cost of private action is usually beyond victims’ means.
However, a new legal initiative devised by Campaign Against Antisemitism together with counsel breaks through that barrier. It has enabled us to identify the anonymous troll by obtaining a special kind of court order which has its origins in the pharmaceutical industry and has never before been used to unmask an anonymous abuser sending antisemitic messages. The court order requires an internet service provider to disclose details of the owner of an online account so that legal proceedings can be issued.
We used this legal device to identify Mr Nelson and criminal proceedings were commenced, leading to him pleading guilty. Mr Nelson had called for another Holocaust, called Mr Kern Shylock, spoke of Jews being used for gun practice, called Jewish women whores, shared obscene sexual fantasies involving Hitler, and glorified the proscribed genocidal antisemitic terror group, Hamas.
Mr Nelson, who lives in Cambridgeshire and was a vigorous supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, also previously sent abusive messages to two Jewish women Labour MPs, branding one a “vile useless c***” and the other a “traitor” who should “end yourself”. At the end of 2018 he pleaded guilty to the same charge and was given a twenty-week suspended sentence for twelve months and ordered to complete 160 hours unpaid work. In 2020, he pleaded guilty to three charges of sending communications of an offensive nature to two other Labour MPs, one of whom is Jewish and the other is an active campaigner against antisemitism. In addition to the charges that Mr Nelson pleaded guilty to today in relation to Mr Kern and Ms Bell, Mr Nelson also pleaded guilty to harassing a member of staff at the Board of Deputies over the telephone.
Mr Kern said: “I have noted the immediacy with which custodial sentences have been handed out for first time offenders who have engaged in other forms of racism. Yet here we have a repeat offender who has embarked upon an unparalleled campaign of hatred against Jews and has been spared prison again and again. Why are antisemitic hate crimes not deemed as criminal as those of other forms of racism? What exactly does it take for a person found guilty of repeated racially motivated crimes against Jews to actually go to prison? This is a disgrace and an embarrassment and sends a clear signal to Britain’s Jews that when it comes to receiving justice, they don’t count.”
Stephen Silverman, Director of Investigations and Enforcement at Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: “Today’s sentence is deeply disappointing. Nicholas Nelson has, for years, obsessively harassed Jews and sent them violent and obscene messages day after day. Instead of sending him to prison where he belongs, Judge Gratwicke has spared a man who deserves no leniency. We are now referring this absurd sentence to the Attorney General’s Office.
“Though the sentence has been regrettable, the fact that Mr Nelson was convicted proves the efficacy of our new legal device to unmask internet trolls who hide behind anonymous e-mail addresses in order to abuse Jewish victims. This game-changing approach is the most significant development in the legal fight against online hate in years. We have been grateful for the cooperation of the police and prosecutors. We will continue to devise innovative legal mechanisms to protect the Jewish community and deliver justice to victims of antisemitism, including in ways previously thought impossible.”
Campaign Against Antisemitism’s analysis of Home Office statistics shows that an average of over three hate crimes are directed at Jews every single day in England and Wales, with Jews almost four times more likely to be targets of hate crimes than any other faith group.
Image credit: JC