Two men convicted of publishing race-hate articles on the internet have skipped bail and fled to the United States to claim political asylum, the Yorkshire Post can reveal.
Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle were given bail by a judge at Leeds Crown Court on Friday, despite having been found guilty of a series of race-related offences. The pair were due to return to court on Monday while a jury continued deliberating over further charges, but they failed to show up.
Last night Sheppard, 51, and Whittle, 41, were being held by immigration officials at Los Angeles Airport – outside the jurisdiction of the British court system.
It is believed that the pair travelled from the UK to Ireland by ferry before taking a direct flight to Los Angeles. They are likely to have their case considered at an immigration hearing in the US before UK authorities can secure their return.
A spokeswoman for Humberside Police, which led the race-hate investigation, said: "We are led to believe that they are indeed being detained by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) at Los Angeles Airport. They are in custody and we are in liaison with the INS to establish that this pair are our two men and, if so, what is likely to happen to them."
Sheppard, of Brook Street, Selby, was found guilty after a seven-week trial of 11 counts of publishing racially inflammatory written material. The jury gave unanimous verdicts on nine of the charges on Friday, and returned with two majority verdicts on Monday while Sheppard was absent.
Whittle, of Avenham Lane, Preston, was convicted of five counts of publishing racially inflammatory written material. Four of the verdicts were reached unanimously on Friday, and the fifth was returned by a majority of 10 to one on Monday after Whittle had absconded.
The jury were unable to reach verdicts on seven further race-related charges which Sheppard faced. A spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service said it had yet to decide whether Sheppard should be retried on the seven outstanding charges. It has 14 days to reach a decision.
The case is due to be considered further at a hearing at Leeds Crown Court on July 28.