July 10, 2009
Posted by Antifascist
Their hunger to stir up controversy saw them flee from justice in the north of England and stage an unlikely claim for political asylum in Los Angeles. But their journey has now ended with jail sentences in the UK.
Jurors at Leeds Crown Court decided neo-Nazis Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle were not just harmless oddballs, but dangerous propagandists dedicated to whipping up racism. On Friday, Sheppard was jailed for four years, 10 months and Whittle for two years, four months.
In a landmark case, they have become the first Britons to be convicted of inciting racial hatred online, having printed leaflets and controlled websites featuring racist material.
The court heard the investigation into the pair began when a complaint about an anti-Semitic comic book called Tales of the Holohoax was made to the police in 2004 after it was pushed through the door of a synagogue in Blackpool, Lancashire. It was traced back to a post office box in Hull registered to Sheppard, 51, a former BNP organiser kicked out of the far-right party after he was jailed in 2000 for distributing a racially inflammatory election leaflet.
The spotlight fell on the publishing activities of Sheppard, of Selby, North Yorkshire, a self-styled "scientific publisher", whose online ramblings took in a hatred of women and a morbid fixation with cannibalism. But a police investigation discovered that his prime motivation was racism and he dedicated himself to producing what prosecutors called "obnoxious and abhorrent'' books, pamphlets and web pages.
On his website, Sheppard employed Whittle, 41, of Preston, Lancashire, as a columnist under the pseudonym "Luke O'Farrell".
Although their vitriol was variously directed at black, Asian and other non-white people, most of the material shown to the jury was virulently anti-Semitic. The language and racial slurs used by the pair cannot be repeated here, but some of the excerpts presented to the court offered a flavour of their discourse. One leaflet claimed that Auschwitz had not really been the location of industrial mass murder but had been, instead, a holiday camp provided by a benevolent Nazi regime for Europe's Jewish population.
Jonathan Sandiford, prosecuting, told the jury that it held up survivors of the Holocaust to "ridicule and contempt", accusing them of lying about the genocide of six million Jews. Another story was illustrated with photographs of dead Jews. Sheppard also wrote that Holocaust victim Anne Frank's diary was "evil".
Reviewing lawyer Mari Reid, of the Crown Prosecution Service's counter-terrorism division, said members of the public were entitled under the law to hold racist and extreme views. But she added: "What they are not entitled to do is to publish or distribute those opinions to the public in a threatening, abusive or insulting manner either intending to stir up racial hatred or in circumstances where it is likely racial hatred will be stirred up."
The defence argued that the online material did not fall under the jurisdiction of UK law, because Sheppard's site was hosted on servers in California. But in a landmark ruling, the judge dismissed this - potentially paving the way for further prosecutions against the owners of other hate sites who believe they are exploiting a legal loophole. Jurors, too, rejected the defence's claim that the pair's writings were merely satirical.
Sheppard was found guilty of 11 offences and Whittle was found guilty of five offences in July 2008. Sheppard was found guilty of a further five charges in January 2009. But the pair were not in court to hear the verdicts against them. Before the jury in the first trial could return verdicts, both men fled to Los Angeles International airport and attempted to claim political asylum. But their bid was thrown out by an immigration judge, and they were held at Santa Ana prison in California until they were returned to the UK to serve their sentences.
The irony of two racists attempting to exploit the immigration and asylum system was lost on no-one who followed the case.