Web racists are refused asylum in US

Two men convicted of publishing racially inflammatory material on the internet have been refused asylum in America and will be returned to Britain to serve their sentences.

Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle fled to the United States during a trial at Leeds Crown Court last year. The jury had returned 11 verdicts of guilty out of 18 counts when the men jumped bail, travelled to Ireland and then flew to Los Angeles, where they claimed political asylum. It was the first prosecution of race hate on the internet.

The pair claimed they had been the victims of a “three-year campaign of harassment” by the government.

They have been held in Santa Ana prison in California since their arrival and now immigration judge Rosa Peters, in a reserved judgement, has told them that their applications have been refused.

The expectation was that the pair would draw out the process by lodging appeals to the decision.

But in a letter published on the website of the extreme right wing British People’s Party, Sheppard, 52, from Selby in Yorkshire, revealed that they will come home to “face the music”.

Sheppard wrote: “We were thinking of appealing and sticking it out, but really this place is replete with people hanging on hoping for a miracle that’s never going to happen and we don’t want to join them. Better we think to go back to England, face the music and get it over with.”

The Crown Prosecution Service decided to hold a retrial for Sheppard in absentia on the counts on which the jury did not reach verdicts and in January, he was found guilty of a further five counts, making 16 in all. Whittle, 41, from Preston in Lancashire, was found guilty on all five counts with which he was charged. The pair are due to be sentenced at Leeds Crown Court on May 15.

An investigation into their activities started after a pamphlet called “Tales of the Holohoax” was pushed through the door of Blackpool Reform Synagogue, while another copy was sent to a Jewish academic.

Some of the material was also published on Sheppard’s websites, for which Whittle wrote articles under the pen-name Luke O’Farrell. They were charged with three different offences of publishing racially inflammatory material; distributing racially inflammatory material and possessing racially inflammatory material with a view to distribution.

Last updated: 6:23pm, April 22 2009