A man found guilty of stirring up hate against migrants by distributing leaflets in Ballymena has been put on Probation for a year and has to participate in a course called ‘Accepting Differences’.
Lee Brown (29), with an address at Shore Crescent in Belfast, was sentenced on Thursday at Ballymena Magistrates Court on a charge of distributing written material in the Harryville area of Ballymena on October 20 last year.
The specifics of the charge were that the material was ‘threatening, abusive or insulting, intending thereby to sit up hatred or arouse fear or having regard to all the circumstances hatred was likely to be stirred up or fear was likely to be aroused thereby’.
Brown and Britain First leader Paul Golding had contested charges regarding the leaflets in June but were found guilty.
In June, Golding was given a three months jail term, suspended for two years, for offences regarding possessing and distributing leaflets.
Brown’s sentence was put back for a pre-sentence report.
The charges followed Britain First activity in Ballymena last autumn when tension increased regarding aspects of foreign migration to the town at a time when there were many references to the ‘Roma’ community in particular.
Britain First held rallies in the town. Golding spoke at the first rally but police bail conditions regarding the leaflets prevented him from attending the second rally.
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.
Previously, a defence barrister for Golding said the leaflets were connected to a political ideology and although the contents may be “unattractive” to many and the language was “unparliamentary”, “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”.
Brown’s defence barrister Andrew Moriarty previously said courts needed to be very careful not to “criminalise speech” and said a conviction could have a “chilling effect” on “freedom of speech in the United Kingdom”.
At Thursday’s court, Mr Moriarty said Brown is no longer a member of Britain First and that at the time of the offence he had been brought in “for security purposes but had been asked to deliver a few leaflets as well”.
The lawyer said Brown wished to make it clear that he is “categorically not racist”.
The court heard the defendant had a record including possession of a broken bottle as an offensive weapon and Mr Moriarty said that happened at a time when the defendant had been “self-harming”.
Brown, the lawyer said, is currently on a methadone substitute programme.
District Judge Nigel Broderick said there was a “glimmer of hope” that Brown appeared to have recognised that his actions in distributing the leaflets could have been interpreted as being racially motivated.
He put Brown on Probation for a year with a condition that he takes part in an ‘Accepting Differences’ course.