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UK anti-racism group demands harsher sentence for neo-Nazi told to read classics

Judge ordered Ben John to study Jane Austen and Dickens as punishment for downloading almost 70,000 white supremacist docs, bomb-making instructions

Pride & Prejudice movie poster (Courtesy)
Pride & Prejudice movie poster (Courtesy)

An anti-racism group in the UK has petitioned the country’s attorney general with a call to re-sentence a former university student who was ordered this week to read classical literature as a punishment for downloading almost 70,000 white supremacist documents and bomb-making instructions.

Ben John, 21, avoided prison “by the skin of his teeth,” Judge Timothy Spencer of the Leicester Crown Court said during a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, instead handing him a suspended prison sentence.

Spencer said John’s crime was likely to be 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.

“Have you read Dickens? Austen? Start with Pride and Prejudice and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Think about Hardy. Think about Trollope,” Spencer said at the sentencing.

After the sentence was handed down, the UK-based Hope Not Hate anti-racism campaign group filed a request Thursday with Attorney General Suella Braverman asking her to order a new sentencing.

“These sorts of lenient sentences risk encouraging other young people to access and share terrorist and extremist content because they will not fear the repercussions of their actions,” Hope Not Hate said in a Thursday statement.

Additionally, the UK Campaign Against Antisemitism said in a statement that it was “inexplicable that a man who collected nearly 70,000 neo-Nazi and terror-related documents could avoid a maximum jail term of fifteen years and leave court with no custodial sentence whatsoever.”

The group said the judge had instead “let off Ben John with a mere suspended sentence and some English homework.”

Tuesday’s sentencing came after John was earlier this month convicted by a jury of possessing information likely to be useful for preparing an act of terror – a charge carrying 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.

The UK attorney general’s office confirmed Thursday that it had received a request for John’s sentence to be considered under the “unduly lenient sentence” scheme which includes some types of hate crime and terrorism-related offenses.

“The law officers have 28 days from sentencing to consider the case and make a decision,” a spokesperson for the attorney general said.

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