A convicted neo-Nazi terrorist who was spared jail and ordered instead to examine works of classic literature has today reported to a judge on his reading.
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.
At today’s hearing at the same court, Judge Spencer told Mr John to write down the books that he had read since they last spoke. Judge Spencer said: “It is clear that you have tried to sort your life out. I would like to know what you have read of the classic literature you told the jury you were interested in. There is nothing in the report on that and I want you to write down now what literature you have read since we last met.”
Mr John reported that, from his reading, “I enjoyed Shakespeare more than I did Jane Austen but I still enjoyed Jane Austen by a degree.” The judge replied: “Well I find that encouraging. I am encouraged about what you have written out for me and I am encouraged by your efforts to seek employment and I wish you well with that.”
However, in an interview with Scout News last month, Mr John reportedly said that he had not read the books asked of him. “I don’t know how to put it,” he said. “I’ve got them. I’ve not got to grips with any of them,” adding: “I’ve still got a month.” Asked which books by Hardy and Trollope he had purchased, John said that he could not recall but that they were “buried somewhere” in a box at home. He disclosed that he had read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in secondary school, observing that “I was already familiar with that anyways.”
Back in September, in addition to his reading, 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.
After criticism of the sentence by Campaign Against Antisemitism and other groups, the Attorney General asked the Court of Appeal to review the “unduly lenient” sentence. A hearing is expected later this month.
Commenting on the sentence, Counter Terrorism Policing East Midlands Detective Inspector James Manning, who led the investigation, said: “This was a young man who could be anyone’s son, studying at university, and living one life in public, while conducting another in private. He possessed a wealth of National Socialist and antisemitic material which indicated a fascination and belief in a white supremacist ideology along with support for an extreme satanic group which is increasingly of concern for law enforcement agencies.
“The terrorist material he was found in possession of is extremely dangerous, and he acquired this to further his ideology. It indicates the threat that he and other followers of this hateful ideology pose to national security. It was not light reading, or material most would concern themselves with for legitimate reasons. This has been a long and complex investigation over the course of 11 months.”
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “The Attorney-General was absolutely right to ask the Court of Appeal to review this pathetic sentence. It is inexplicable that a man who collected nearly 70,000 neo-Nazi and terror-related documents could entirely avoid a custodial sentence 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.
“For all the novels that the judge ordered Mr John to peruse as he enjoys his unearned freedom, it was notable that Crime and Punishment was not among them. Perhaps the judge himself ought to review that classic as he reflects on the risk that his dangerous sentence poses to the public.
“We await the result of the Attorney-General’s referral of the sentence to the Court of Appeal.”
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