Published on 30 May 2018
A Journalism graduate has successfully challenged an order barring details of a far-right activist’s imprisonment for contempt of court.
Former University of Sunderland student Stephanie Finnegan this week challenged the order made at Leeds Crown Court barring any mention of court proceedings involving Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League (EDL).
Stephanie is currently court reporter for website Leeds Live and its Reach plc sister paper the Huddersfield Examiner.
Last Friday, Yaxley-Lennon (Robinson) was arrested outside the court, where he was conducting a Facebook Live video viewed hundreds of thousands of times, on suspicion of a breach of the peace.
A court order is currently in place temporarily banning any reporting on a trial being heard at Leeds.
The 35-year-old was arrested and held in the court cells before being taken up to the courtroom to face the trial’s judge, who sentenced him to 13 months in prison that day for contempt of court.
Yaxley-Lennon was sentenced to three months imprisonment suspended for 18 months last May, after he was found in contempt of court over a case in Canterbury, and had been warned that committing further offences would result in incarceration.
Then, a reporting restriction was applied to Yaxley-Lennon’s arrest, charge and hearing on Friday, but was successfully challenged this week by Stephanie.
Supporters of Yaxley-Lennon have since bombarded Stephanie with abusive tweets and Facebook posts. But the graduate has won praise from journalists across the country for her actions.
Stephanie said: "I've received threats to harm me and members of my family, both physically and sexually. I've also gotten an overwhelming amount of support, including from the co-author of law book McNae's, the Secret Barrister and Kevin Maguire as well as interviews on BBC Radio 4's Today programme and BBC Asian Network, which I think takes precedence over the abuse.
"Honestly, that's the only thing in all of this that has me on the verge on tears.
"I'd like to all my LeedsLive colleagues for supporting me during this. There's no I in team and I'm really glad that we're putting Leeds on the map together."
Carole Watson, Journalism lecturer at the University of Sunderland and member of the media law examinations board for the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), said: “I’m so proud that Steph has taken on board all the lessons learned in my media law lectures and courageously applied them in the real world.
“She richly deserves all the praise she’s receiving for successfully challenging the reporting restrictions in this case, and none of the horrific online abuse she’s been subjected to.
“Her fight for open justice in this case will become a part of my teaching from next year, and I hope she’ll come back to campus to talk about this and inspire our current journalism students.
“Journalism gets a bad press in these days of “fake news” so I hope Steph’s story shines a light on how much training, hard work and sheer guts is needed to be a professional reporter.”
Honorary graduate and Mirror associate editor Kevin Maguire said: “Stephanie Finnegan’s terrific public interest journalism was text book court reporting, a lesson in how in how to challenge a ruling and put important facts in front of readers, listeners and viewers.
“It’s clear she knows her law from her University of Sunderland training and other journalists are impressed she expertly put it into action.
“Jailed Far Right extremist Stephen Lennon or Stephen Yaxley Lennon, who likes to use the monicker ‘Tommy Robinson’, masquerades as a reporter but Finnegan is a genuine reporter, obeying and applying the law to show why he’s in prison for dangerously breaking it.
“It’s important court cases are covered properly and fairly. The abuse she’s suffered from his blinkered supporters for telling the truth is a backhanded compliment when the morons can’t argue with the facts."
Alastair Stewart, ITN news presenter and University of Sunderland honorary graduate, said he was impressed when Stephanie appeared on Radio 4 with her “lucid explanation” of how she asked for the reporting restrictions to be lifted.