Web racists await possible extradition

The fate of two racists who were the first people in Britain to be convicted of publishing racially inflammatory material on the internet still hangs in the balance.

Simon Sheppard and Steve Whittle fled to America in the middle of their trial at Leeds Crown Court. They will know within the next three weeks whether or not an asylum court judge will return them to Britain. However, the pair have already said they will appeal if the decision goes against them. That process could involve appeals to two higher American courts and could take months before a final decision is reached.

Sheppard, 51, from Selby, Yorkshire, and Whittle, 42, of Preston, Lancs, were on trial last July, facing charges of inciting racial hatred against Jews and other ethnic groups using the internet. The jury had returned 11 out of 18 verdicts of guilty when the men fled to America and claimed political asylum on arrival in Los Angeles. They have been held in prison in the town of Santa Ana, California, since then.

They claimed they had been the victims of a “three-year campaign of legal harassment” by the British government.

A three-day long asylum hearing last month was held before Judge Rose Peters in Santa Ana. Both men represented themselves and made statements about their cases. The judge reserved judgement, which it is thought that it will be delivered within 30 days of the end of the hearing, which concluded on March 24.

After the pair fled, the Crown Prosecution Service decided to retry Sheppard in his absence, as the counts on which the jury had not delivered verdicts related only to him. He was subsequently found guilty of five out of seven counts.

The pair were due to be sentenced at Leeds Crown Court on Monday but the judge decided to delay the hearing until May 15, by which time a decision in the asylum hearing should be known.

    Last updated: 10:07am, April 2 2009