Court sends UK neo-Nazi to jail after earlier ruling instructed him to read classics

Prosecutors told appeals court that after previous lenient sentence, Ben John quickly returned to extremist activities

Convicted right-wing British extremist Ben John in an undated photo (Courtesy)
Convicted right-wing British extremist Ben John in an undated photo (Courtesy)

A young British right-wing extremist who was convicted last year of a terrorism offense has been sentenced to two years in prison, months after his initial punishment — an order to read classic English literature in order to educate himself — drew intense criticism from Jewish and anti-racism groups.

Ben John, 21, had been charged last year for possessing information likely to be useful for preparing an act of terror, after downloading almost 70,000 white supremacist documents and bomb-making instructions. This included white supremacist and antisemitic material.

The original judge in the case had said John’s actions were likely an isolated “act of teenage folly” and ordered him to reappear in court every four months to be “tested” on classic literature by Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen.

Amid an outcry by various groups, Britain’s attorney-general told the country’s Court of Appeal to review the sentencing.

Prosecutors told the new judge that shortly after receiving his original punishment, John had returned to extremist activities.

“We now know that within a week of giving an apparently sincere promise to the judge, he resumed his interest in the far-right,” Solicitor General Alex Chalk QC said.

“He began liking Nazi posts online and other extremist activity five days after promising the judge he had put it behind him.” He added: “Some of the material accessed as recently as this month is very troubling.”

The judge said the original judge’s leniency had been “understandable,” but ruled that “we are satisfied there must be a sentence of immediate imprisonment.”

The charge for which John was convicted carries a maximum jail sentence of fifteen years.

According to prosecutors, John was first identified as a terror risk days after his 18th birthday and was referred to a UK government counter-terrorism scheme. He nonetheless continued to download “repellant” right-wing documents as well as a copy of “The Anarchist Cookbook” including diagrams and instructions on how to build explosives.

In response to the new ruling, the Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Ben John has today finally received an appropriate custodial sentence. The Attorney General was absolutely right to ask the Court of Appeal to review the pathetic original sentence.

“It was inexplicable that a man who collected nearly 70,000 neo-Nazi and terror-related documents could entirely avoid prison 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.

“The British public can sleep safer tonight knowing that the Court of Appeal has shown sense, rectified the alarming joke of a sentence originally handed down to Mr John, and jailed a dangerous individual.”

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