BRITAIN First leader Paul Golding has been given a suspended jail sentence after a judge found him guilty of stirring up hate against migrants in Ballymena.
The 37-year-old with an address in Dartford in Kent received a three months jail term, suspended for two years, at Ballymena Magistrates Court on Thursday afternoon where he had been accompanied by around a dozen supporters.
There was a police presence in the courthouse during the contested hearing.
Golding was found guilty of distributing written material in Ballymena on October 20 last year ‘which was abusive or insulting, and having regard to all the circumstances, hatred was likely to be stirred up or fear was likely be aroused thereby’.
The second charge he was convicted of related to October 24 last year regarding him possessing written material ‘which is abusive or insulting, with a view to it being displayed, published, or distributed or included in a programme service, whether by yourself or another, and having regard to all the circumstances, hatred was likely to be stirred up or fear was likely to be aroused thereby’.
A co-accused – Lee Brown (29), of Shore Crescent in Belfast – was convicted of the one charge he faced – distributing written material at Moat Road in the Harryville area of Ballymena which was ‘threatening, abusive or insulting intending thereby to stir up hatred or arouse fear or having regard to all the circumstances hated was likely to be aroused thereby’.
The court ordered that seized leaflets should be forfeited and destroyed.
The charges followed Golding’s arrest on Wednesday 24 October, 2018.
Golding had visited Ballymena in the previous weeks in relation to the Far Right group which he leads.
Britain First held rallies in the County Antrim town.
Golding spoke at the first rally but police bail conditions prevented him from attending the second rally.
Britain First had gone to Ballymena when tensions had increased regarding aspects of foreign migration to the town at a time when there were many references to the ‘Roma’ community in particular.
At the centre of the court case was a leaflet which was distributed ahead of the second Britain First rally which had the title: ‘Stop the influx of migrants into Ballymena …now!’
The court heard the leaflet began with a line saying: ‘The people of Ballymena are furious at the massive influx of gypsy migrants from eastern Europe’.
The court was told the leaflet made a number of allegations including that ‘anti-social behaviour has become commonplace and there have been attacks by migrants on local residents’.
The leaflet claimed houses had been ‘handed out to bus loads of these migrants’.
The pamphlet also alleged ‘Most of these migrants are given benefits’.
The leaflet invited people to attend a Britain First rally in Ballymena on October 27 last year.
District Judge Nigel Broderick said he had read arguments submitted by the prosecution and defence who had agreed the defendants did not deny possessing or distributing the lealfet.
Golding’s defence barrister Mark Farrell told the court the leaflet was connected to a political ideology and although the contents may be “unattractive” to many and the language was “unparlamentary”, “forceful”, “exaggerated” and “inflated” the aim of the leaflet was to encourage residents from a particular part of Ballymena to attend a rally to put pressure on politicians to take action regarding a “perceived problem over immigration”.
He said the ultimate aim of the leaflet was to hold a lawful meeting.
The barrister said the leaflet was not inciting or threatening violence and although he said the language may be considered by some to be “unpleasant” this was a society of “free speech”.
Brown’s defence barrister Andrew Moriarty said the pamphlet was “not a call to arms or civic unrest, it’s a political document” and he said there was no evidence of any complaint having been made regarding the leaflets “by the community in question”.
He said there had been “no aggression” as a result of the leaflet.
He added: “We are dealing with language which a good many people will no doubt find offensive, repugnant, but that doesn’t mean the people who hold these views can’t express them. The courts need to be very careful not to criminalise speech”.
Mr Moriarty said a conviction could have a “chilling effect” on “freedom of speech in the United Kingdom”.
Both accused chose not to give evidence on their own behalf at the hearing.
In finding both accused guilty, Judge Broderick said the defence case essentially had been that although some might find references in the leaflet “unpalatable” they did not meet the test of being ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’.
The judge said he accepted that the leaflet was “not explicitly threatening” but in his view the reference to what was referred to as ‘gypsy migrants’ in connection with a number of issues did meet the test of being “abusive and or insulting”.
The judge also found that the leaflet also met the next test that it stirred up hatred and fear as the reference to ‘gypsy migrants’ constituted an “ethnic or national group”.
In mitigation, Mark Farrell said there was no direct evidence the leaflet had any impact “in terms of public order” and the distribution of the leaflets was not targeted at members of the minority referred to.
Sentencing Golding, Judge Broderick said they were “serious matters” as the leaflet was designed to stir up hatred and/or fear but that thankfully there was no evidence that anyone was the victim of violence as a result of the leaflet.
Golding was given bail on the sum of £500 pending appeal.
Brown’s sentence was put back to the end of July for a pre-sentence report.
Afterwards Golding declined to speak to the media, only making a reference to “fake news”.