Web racists convicted in historic trial

The front page of the pamphlet which was pushed through a shul door

The front page of the pamphlet which was pushed through a shul door

Two racists have been convicted of publishing racially inflammatory material in the first case brought by the Crown Prosecution Service involving the diffusion of race hate via the internet.

Stephen Whittle, 41, from Preston, Lancashire, wrote five offensive articles under the pen-name Luke O’Farrell, published on the internet by his co-defendant, 51-year-old Simon Sheppard from Hull.

As if the case were not significant enough, it assumed even greater importance when both Sheppard and Whittle fled to America as the jury was returning verdicts after a seven-week trial at Leeds Crown Court in July. The pair flew to Los Angeles where they claimed political asylum.

Currently, they are in prison in Santa Ana, awaiting a hearing in March that will determine whether or not they will be sent back. Sentencing in the case has been postponed until then.

Awaiting possible extradition: Simon Sheppard

Awaiting possible extradition: Simon Sheppard

The jury had reached guilty verdicts in 11 out of the 18 charges on the indictment, five for Whittle and 11 for Sheppard, but could not agree in the other seven.

The CPS decided to try Sheppard again in absentia and after another three-week hearing, he was found guilty of another five charges. A sixth charge was dropped after legal argument.

Both men were convicted of inciting racial hatred against Jews and other minority ethnic groups using material which the CPS said had crossed the line from unpleasant and obnoxious to a criminal offence.

The prosecution alleged three kinds of offences: publishing racially inflammatory material; distributing racially inflammatory material and possessing racially inflammatory material with a view to distribution.

The investigation started after a copy of a pamphlet called ‘Tales of the Holohoax’ was pushed through the door of Blackpool Reform Synagogue.

It was picked up by the caretaker and handed to the then synagogue president, Estelle Ballen, who read it with increasing distress. The pamphlet was then passed to the police who traced it back to a post office box in Hull registered to Sheppard.

When police searched his flat in March, 2005, they seized a number of computers that contained documents such as “Dumb Niggers, Gloating Jews”, “Make Niggers History”, “Diversity=Death” and “Rockwell, the Swastika”.

The charges on which Sheppard was found guilty in the second trial related to the “Tales” pamphlet and another called “Don’t Be Sheeple”.

Reviewing lawyer Mari Reid of the CPS’s Counter Terrorism Division said: “That leaflet [‘Tales of the Holohoax’]went much further than simply denying the Holocaust, which is not in itself an offence in this country. The whole subject was treated in a way that was insulting and abusive and as a subject for humour.

“Another example was a leaflet called ‘Ohdruff, Auschwitz Holiday Resort’, where the general theme was that Auschwitz was in fact a holiday camp provided by the Nazi regime and to which Jews from all over Europe came to enjoy a free holiday.

“People are entitled to hold racist and extreme opinions which others may find unpleasant and obnoxious. What they are not entitled to do is to publish or distribute those opinions to the public in a threatening, abusive or insulting manner, either intending to stir up racial hatred or in circumstances where it is likely racial hatred will be stirred up.

“The vast majority of the material in this case concerned Jewish people, but there was also material relating to black, Asian and non-white people generally, all described in derogatory terms using offensive language.

“As well as printed leaflets, there was evidence of Simon Sheppard controlling websites which featured racist material, some of it written by Whittle, under the pen name of Luke O’Farrell.”

The case took a long time to come to court because Sheppard and Whittle used a succession of legal delaying tactics that the CPS had to overcome before it could proceed. These included arguments about the status of Jews as an ethnic or religious group, or both, and whether or not the evidence of a Holocaust-denier was admissible.

Commenting on the case, Bassetlaw MP John Mann, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism, said: “The conviction of Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle is proof that if you write, disseminate and publish antisemitic racist propaganda in the UK, or on the internet from here in the UK, the police will come after you and the courts will convict. This case sets an excellent precedent — antisemitic hate is not welcome here in the UK.

“It is about time the US authorities sent them home — they deserve prison sentences, not immunity from justice. I make no comment about the sick irony of these two people claiming asylum.”

A shul's shock

Former Blackpool Reform Synagogue president Estelle Ballen recalled the moment when ‘Tales of the Holohoax’ arrived.

“The caretaker picked up the post and put it on my desk. He said: ‘I don’t think this is very nice’. At first, I thought it was going to be something comical. But the more I read, the worse it got and I became more and more upset. I was shocked that someone should send us something like that. We know it’s rubbish but there are people who believe it.”

Last updated: 3:09pm, March 10 2009