When in October 2013 Steven Yaxely Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) abandoned his “comrades” in the English Defence League (EDL) this presaged the beginning of a strategy by some on the far-right to seek to establish credibility among the British working class by straddling the grey area between fascist groups such as the British National Party and Britain First and the more ostensibly acceptable mainstream faces of characters such as Nigel Farage and Richard Tice on the other.
Central to this strategy has been the exploitation of the victimisation of children and young people subjected to rape and sexual offences, often in sustained and profoundly damaging ways with the intention of weaponisng their experiences to support the propagation of racist tropes.
Lennon has taken on a number of high-profile causes in recent years. Though while undoubtedly raising his profile and providing an income stream, his strategy has also given him some significant set-backs . This year saw him imprisoned twice and humiliated at the ballot box. As I write, he is being sued for harassment of a child.
This self-styled “citizen journalist” has sought to exploit victims whose experiences provide the focus for the promotion of division, fear and loathing in the hearts and minds of the dispossessed, disenfranchised working class. And what success he has so far enjoyed has encouraged a plethora of imitators such as side-kick Daniel Thomas (aka Danny Tommo) and the hapless Vincent Burke.
During Lennon’s most recent sojourn at Her Majesty’s pleasure, Daniel sought to follow in his mentors precarious footsteps, this time focusing on events in Telford. Apparently unaware that a public inquiry had been initiated in January 2019, in August Daniel thought to add his belated voice to calls for an inquiry. Perhaps realising he had been a little slow in attaching himself to this local issue, Daniel then managed to find a victim suited to promote his profile. A family whose daughter had been taken into the care of the Local Authority and subsequently become the victim of sexual assault acquired Tommo’s support in their efforts to secure her return home.
Daniel’s adoption of this cause marks a shift in focus away from the usual mendacious attacks on minority communities and toward a vitriolic assault on professionals whose role it is to protect those communities,- in this case, children’s social workers. Although Daniel himself has betrayed a characteristic lack of insight, the case marks another shift. Previous concerns with Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) have given way in this case to the broader theme of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). What remains consistent however is the use of victim experience as vehicle – a useful “cause celeb” if you will, enabling our far-right “warrior” to assume the mantle of champion of the dispossessed and thus promote a distorted sense of collective victimhood.
Focused attacks on professions is not new; it is merely a shift of emphasis and should not come as a surprise. The far-right narrative on CSE established since Rotherham included the presentation of apparent professional complicity in the victimisation of the majority white working-class community, by what fascists present as an alien minority, protected at all costs by an establishment “elite”. Undermining confidence in professionals serves to weaken opposition to the racist violence increasingly commonplace toward minority ethnic communities.
With no cohesive critique or vision of their own to promote, fascists look to fracture social cohesion by undermining the values upon which this is based. And they do this not by engaging in any kind of considered reappraisal but by undermining confidence in the professionals who seek to reflect the values of social unity in their practice.
This then, is an account of one such on-going “cause celeb” currently adopted by Daniel.
On 24th October 2019, Daniel attended at the offices of Telford Children’s services unannounced and demanded to speak to a social worker. The record of the incident, available to view on YouTube, began with his introduction of the case in a piece to camera in which he promised he would inform us of:
“everything that Children’s Services had done to her”
Which is why when asked (moments later) it came as a surprise that he was unable to provide the child’s surname. What he did provide for the benefit of the public was this child’s first name and her picture, presented to the viewer to underline his determination to:
“put a campaign together to get legal advice”.
Picking up a phone to request a consultation would be all that was needed but that would hardly convey the required melodramatic impact. This, after all, was to: “save this girl’s life”
And to this end, Daniel was intent not merely to seek advice but to secure the requisite support for a Court action and (predictably as ever) to convince his audience to pay the costs.
That this child may already, or certainly at some future time will be aware that her experience has become public knowledge appears not to occur to Daniel, consumed as he is by his mission to: “save this girl’s life”. By which, he means of course, return her to her parents.
So, exactly what was this child’s lived experience when living with her parents?
As a young man I worked on street markets. I would watch an unwary crowd gather, aware that whilst the chatter seemed endless, the guy would be gone the following day. But for now the talk of bargains drew an expectant, anxious crowd,– some waving clenched fists gripping wads of notes, hoping they would be the one to be picked… and too many of the unsuspecting and the naïve, would on arrival home that evening, unwrap unsaleable and unworkable video cameras.
Daniel Thomas is one of those auctioneers: his stuttering dialogue, studded with emotional cliché, and punctured with promises to inform which are rarely delivered.
Child S was aged 5 when Social services first became involved due to what Daniel described as “Family arguments”. Accommodated by children’s services, she experienced a sexual assault by a young person also resident at the children’s home. This appears to be as much as Daniel knows. It is at least, as much as he imagines people need to know to fund a case.
Local Authority accommodation can happen voluntarily or through Court application. The Social Work ethos and the values underpinning practice are driven by one basic principle which is enshrined in legislation and policy, namely that children are best cared for in their families by their primary carer if this is safe and practicable.
In any involuntary case, accommodation is decided by the Court and based on the opinion of the Local Authority (the social workers report is subject to rigorous quality assurance processes), representation from the family solicitor and the independent expert advice of a Court appointed Guardian Ad Litem, whose role it is to examine all of the evidence and offer a view as to the child’s best interests. The Court decision is, in short, supported by a range of expert opinion.
In spite of such rigour, the decisions reached are not always 100% correct for the child . However they are in no way the result of one person who: “had it in for them”. But that the social worker did indeed “have it in for them” is Daniel’s explanation for her “abduction” a conclusion of which he is certain because, as he tells us: “I’ve experienced it myself”.
Really, Daniel? Intriguing. Tell us more… But no, that is left enigmatically hanging. What an independent observer – or a Court – might conclude from this is that Daniel may not be a reliable witness. But we’re not in Court. Not yet. For that, Daniel needs our money and for that, Daniel imagines, we may need more convincing.
“…. A lovely family. Trust me. I’ve done the background. I’ve checked the family out”.
And this it seems is all we need to be roused to indignation. Daniel has of course not “checked the family out” any more than he could remember the child’s surname.
Threshold guidance for children’s services intervention with families without consent is the identification of “risk of serious harm”. Serious harm is that which is likely to be sustained and from which recovery might be difficult.
In the case of domestic violence, serious harm is likely to include a child witnessing violence with the consequent risk of potentially becoming embroiled in it. Research indicates that witnessing domestic violence is likely to have a traumatic impact, particularly on younger children, and if this is sustained, such impact can be difficult to recover from. –
And this is only the threshold for involvement in a child’s life without consent. It is not justification for accommodating a child by the Local Authority. Such a decision can only be arrived at following rigorous assessment. In making a case the Local Authority must demonstrate all efforts have been made to support the child within the family and to support any carers to provide safe and adequate parenting. It is only when these attempts have failed can alternative accomodation be considered.
But the collective expertise of the Court and all who contribute are brushed aside by Daniel who dismisses any risk of harm there may be to this child returning to the family because Daniel has “checked the family out.”
Daniel tells us the parents were “cleared of any safeguarding issues”. He doesn’t explain the basis of this assertion. He doesn’t appear at this stage to have spoken to anyone other than the parents. He does tell us the decision of the Court not to return the child home was based on the argument that child S is “too messed up in the head” for her parents adequately to care for her needs. But the real reason for this “abduction”, has nothing it seems to do with her mental and emotional state or her parents’ abilities to manage this. It is to cover up “the [alleged] grooming”, aided and abetted by a solicitor “with connections to the Council”.
Thus, the life of a traumatised six-year old child becomes the tool of a barely-educated conspiracy theorist with obvious issues of his own, in an attempt to gain notoriety by manipulating the anxieties of anyone daft enough to listen to his peddling of fear and loathing.
When Daniel eventually barges into a private meeting to gain access to a children’s service social worker, he does little more than distributing images of child S and exhorting people to “look into her eyes”. Startled professionals hastily fold papers and laptops to ensure for others the confidentiality Daniel has denied child S. Then, with pictures duly deposited and with nothing of substance to offer and police on their way, Daniel struts off, leaving behind a bevy of bemused and befuddled staff to muse as to the purpose of this theatre of the absurd.
With Yaxley-Lennon still smarting from his experience of incarceration and facing heavy costs in the civil case he now expects to lose, he has in recent months taken a back-seat. But his strategy, as amateurish as it appears in Daniel’s incompetent hands, has been tried and tested and met with such a degree of success by Yaxley-Lennon that it will no doubt resume. It is a strategy that requires playing on the fear and loathing of the powerless; a strategy which underpins and reinforces a sense of belonging. And rooted as it is in ignorance, it is a strategy that requires the concotion of conspiracies to justify tactics of bullying and intimidation.
Such tactics have been used against individuals prepared to call out these thugs. Earlier this year, the historian, writer and mild-mannered anti-fascist, Mike Stuchberry was “doorstepped” by Lennon with lies and distortions about him repeated endlessly on the social media of the far right.
This hate speech inspired a whole host of thugs who openly claimed theuy were prepared to turn up at Mike’s door with a barage of harassment and threats. This, as one might suspect, affected Mike’s health and Mike was forced to move to Germany.
Recently Resisting Hate set up a crowdfunding scheme to enable Mike to take Yaxley-Lennon to Court for harassment. Anyone interested can donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/sue-tommy-robinson