The Court of Appeal has struck down Nicholas Nelson’s original sentence and sent him to prison immediately, after Campaign Against Antisemitism wrote to the Attorney General’s Office asking that the original sentence be reviewed as it was unduly lenient.
Mr Nelson, the defendant in a criminal case that resulted from first-of-its-kind litigation by Campaign Against Antisemitism, was given an eighteen-month sentence, suspended for two years, at Southwark Crown Court last month. However, given that his campaign of harassment endured for a period of time against multiple victims — including Oscar-nominated writer Lee Kern and communications strategist Joanne Bell — and came after he had committed several similar offences, we considered this sentence to be inexplicably lenient, a mockery of the victims and an insult to the Jewish community.
Accordingly, we wrote to the Attorney General’s Office, which has the power to refer sentences for certain offences which are believed to be unduly lenient, to the Court of Appeal. The Solicitor General confirmed that he would refer Mr Nelson’s absurdly lenient sentence for antisemitic harassment to the Court of Appeal. Alex Chalk QC MP agreed that “the behaviour of Mr Nelson was truly appalling,” and expressed his gratitude that Campaign Against Antisemitism brought this case to his attention.
In handing down the judgement which quashed that of Southwark Crown Court and was made on behalf of himself, Mr Justice Goss and Her Honour Judge Deborah Taylor, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith stated that the “chilling effect on both the lives and the livelihood of Mr Kern and Ms Bell [of Mr Nelson’s actions] are clear to see.”
He further emphasised that the harassment suffered by Mr Kern was “some of the worst kind imaginable,” having earlier stated that abusing him with descriptions of obscene sexual fantasies involving Hitler is “about as low as it can get” and the “most despicable of all in a crowded field.”
The impact of the abuse directed at Mr Kern, which included that “another Holocaust would be too good,” was described as something which could “barely be imagined” given that Mr Kern had lost members of his family in the Holocaust.
The Judges also made clear that “keyboard warriors” may think that they are just “spewing” words, but for the person who receives such messages, it might put them in fear of their lives, and to think otherwise would be a “blinkered perspective.” Indeed, as Her Honour Judge Taylor pointed out during the proceedings, the names of the handles of some of the social media accounts were in themselves threatening on their own.
Lord Justice Stuart-Smith further agreed with Campaign Against Antisemitism that Mr Nelson had shown “complete disregard” for the suspended sentences previously imposed upon him. He noted that Mr Nelson’s existing suspended sentences, which he breached, were required to be taken into consideration by the lower court, Southwark Crown Court, unless thought to be unjust in the circumstances. If it was the latter, Judge Charles Gratwicke of the lower court was required to make clear his reasons, which he failed to do. Accordingly, the first and second suspended sentences that had been breached were to be reactivated, and the Court of Appeal has ordered that those sentences are therefore to be served concurrently with the current, new custodial sentence. It was further emphasised that Mr Nelson had continued to abuse Mr Kern whilst he was on bail from being charged.
Whilst providing a degree of mitigation, the medical evidence advanced as to Mr Nelson’s mental health had limitations, given that it was on the basis of one zoom consultation that he had with a doctor, and the doctor had not corroborated Mr Nelson’s accounts nor did the doctor prepare the evidence for explicit use at court.
Mr Nelson’s case was the culmination of first-of-its-kind litigation by Campaign Against Antisemitism to unmask an anonymous antisemitic online troll. He 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 Mr Kern and hateful messages to Ms 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.
He had committed the offences 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, Mr Nelson was instead ordered by Southwark Crown Court 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. This sentence has now been quashed by the Court of Appeal and replaced with a custodial sentence.
In considering the new sentence, the Court of Appeal calculated that the charges should have led to a custodial sentence of 29 months if each were considered on its own and added cumulatively. However, this was reduced to 24 months after adjustment for the “totality” principle, which sets out that when sentencing for more than a single offence, courts should pass a total sentence which reflects all offending behaviour and is just and proportionate. Given Mr Nelson’s recent good conduct, the Court ultimately landed on eighteen months for the final prison term.
In a statement, one of Mr Nelson’s victims, Lee Kern said: “I experienced years of antisemitic abuse from Nicholas Nelson. Despite being found guilty of such crimes for the third time, Nelson was spared jail. However, during today’s review by the Court of Appeal, that lenient decision has been overturned. Mr Nelson’s harassment, which included calls for another Holocaust and perverted sexual fantasies involving Adolf Hitler, started anonymously. With the help of Campaign Against Antisemitism and the lawyer, Mark Lewis, we exposed Mr Nelson’s identity and kickstarted a prosecution, which has now reached an appropriate conclusion.”
In a statement, Joanne Bell, another victim, said: “I am delighted to see that justice has finally been done. Nicholas Nelson subjected so many people to antisemitic, hateful and specifically misogynistic abuse over a sustained period of many years without the judicial system seemingly taking it seriously. I hope that this sends a message to antisemites and racists everywhere that anonymous abuse of any kind, whether digital or in person, will not be tolerated and — now, finally — meaningfully prosecuted.”
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Nicholas Nelson undertook a sustained online campaign of grotesque antisemitic harassment behind a cowardly mask of anonymity. Together with the esteemed solicitor Mark Lewis, we established a new legal precedent that allowed us to unmask Mr Nelson and bring about criminal charges, which should have resulted in an appropriate sentence for this repeat offender. Instead, Mr Nelson was all but let off, avoiding meaningful sanction for his racist abuse in a denial of justice that added to the ordeal of the victims.
“We are grateful that the Solicitor General agreed with us that the sentence was unduly lenient and referred the case to the Court of Appeal, which has now imposed the custodial sentence that Mr Nelson should have received months ago. This new sentence must send a message to lower court judges who still labour under the misconception that online abuse is secondary to other forms of harassment, and the case should warn other would-be online trolls that their anonymity can and will be lifted. We will do whatever it takes, however long it takes, to ensure that victims and the Jewish community have justice.”
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