Following action taken by Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Solicitor General has confirmed that he will refer Nicholas Nelson’s absurdly lenient sentence for antisemitic harassment to the Court of Appeal.
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 and came after he had committed several similar offences, we considered this sentence to be inexplicably lenient.
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.
We have now received confirmation from the Solicitor General that he is referring the case to the Court of Appeal.
Alex Chalk QC MP agreed that “the behaviour of Mr Nelson was truly appalling.”
Offering two reasons for his referral, Mr Chalk wrote: “First, it is arguable that the judge failed sufficiently to have regard to the fact this was multiple offending against three separate victims over a sustained period of time. Given there were three separate victims, the judge arguably ought to have imposed consecutive sentences.”
Providing his second reason, Mr Chalk said that “There were two features in this case that required an immediate custodial sentence,” the first being that “These were serious offences committed against multiple victims over a significant period of time. Given the nature of the offending, and Mr Nelson’s previous convictions, a significant deterrent element was required, together with appropriate punishment.” He also pointed out that “abuse, harassment and antisemitism online and on social media is a significant public issue and of real concern to the wider public.”
Mr Chalk added: “Secondly, Mr Nelson had a poor compliance history with court orders. The offending was committed in breach of two earlier suspended sentences. Such a disregard for the earlier orders of the court required punishment by way of immediate custody, notwithstanding any mitigation or progress made since those earlier sentences.”
The Solicitor General expressed his gratitude that Campaign Against Antisemitism brought this case to his attention. He has a record of referring unduly lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal, including, recently, that of the neo-Nazi teenager Ben John, a review of whose sentence we also called for.
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 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.
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, 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 and referring to Mr Nelson’s “horrible tirades”, Judge Charles Gratwicke said 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.” Nevertheless, he insisted that the defendant was “not the person you were two or three years ago.”
On the day of the sentencing, 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.”
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “We are grateful that the Solicitor General has readily acceded to our request for a review of Nicholas Nelson’s absurdly lenient sentence. To all but let off a defendant who committed racist offences over a sustained period against multiple victims, apparently whilst serving suspended sentences for similar offences, is a staggering miscarriage of justice and mocks not only the direct victims of this campaign of harassment but the whole Jewish community and all those who suffer at the hands of online trolls. We hope that the Court of Appeal will impose a more fitting punishment on someone who has brought such harm to the targets of his racist bile.”
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