The defendant in a criminal case that has resulted from first-of-its-kind litigation by Campaign Against Antisemitism has pleaded guilty at Peterborough Crown Court today.
Nicholas Nelson, 32, was charged with 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 repeatedly sending 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 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 very 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 the plea at today’s hearing, held in Peterborough Cathedral.
Mr Nelson, who lives in Cambridgeshire and is 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.
The new offences to which Mr Nelson today pleaded guilty were committed during the period of the suspended sentence, which accordingly may impact sentencing.
Sentencing is expected on 25th March. The offence carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a fine.
Mr Kern said: “Nicholas Nelson is a malevolent racist motivated by his love of Jeremy Corbyn, and has engaged in an antisemitic campaign of harassment against me for several years. During this time he called for another Holocaust, called me Shylock, spoke of Jews being used for gun practise, called Jewish women whores, shared perverted sexual fantasies involving Hitler and glorified the antisemitic terror organisation, Hamas. He believed he was able to make these attacks on Jews with anonymity and impunity. He was mistaken.
“Justice will now be served. All those who think they can attack Jews anonymously and get away with it should pay heed. We have the motivation and commitment to come after you hard. And we succeed. I’d like to thank Campaign Against Antisemitism and Mark Lewis, and I doff my cap to all those who fight antisemitism with little reward other than doing the right thing.”
Stephen Silverman, Director of Investigations and Enforcement at Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: “Our new legal device to unmask internet trolls who hide behind anonymous e-mail addresses in order to abuse Jewish victims has borne fruit with today’s guilty plea. This game-changing precedent is the most significant development in the legal fight against online hate in years. We are grateful for the cooperation of the police and prosecutors in helping us to send a message of deterrence to would-be online abusers. 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