Neo-Nazi student, 21,tells judge he 'enjoyed Shakespeare'

Neo-Nazi student, 21, who was spared jail and told to read classic literature after being convicted of terrorism tells judge he ‘enjoyed Shakespeare more than Jane Austen’

  • Ben John, 21, caught with 67,788 white supremacist and neo-Nazi documents 
  • He was also found to have downloaded The Anarchist Cookbook on a hard drive
  • Was convicted as Leicester Crown Court of terrorism and handed two-year suspended sentence
  • Judge Timothy Spencer QC told John to read classic novels so he could test him

A Neo-Nazi handed a suspended jail sentence by a judge who suggested he should read literature classics has given his take on the books.

Ben John, 21, who police described as a white supremist with a neo-Nazi ideology, was given a two-year suspended prison sentence at Leicester Crown Court in August last year.

John was invited by a judge to read famous works including Pride And Prejudice and A Tale of Two Cities as he was given a five-year serious crime prevention order.

At a review hearing at the same court on Thursday, Judge Timothy Spencer QC asked John to write down the books he had read since they had last spoken as they were not contained in his report.

‘It is clear that you have tried to sort your life out,’ the judge said.

‘I would like to know what you have read of the classic literature you told the jury you were interested in.

‘There is nothing in the report on that and I want you to write down now what literature you have read since we last met.’

John was found guilty by a jury of possessing a record of information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. 

Judge Timothy Spencer QC told Ben John, 21, (pictured) he could stay out of prison as long as he steered clear of white-supremacy literature and and read books and plays by Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens 

A Leicester Crown Court jury voted unanimously to find John guilty of having in his possession a record of information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism (stock image)

The charge under Section 58 of the Terrorism Act, which has a maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment, was brought following the discovery on a computer of a publication containing diagrams and instructions on how to construct various explosive devices.

Police said John, of Addison Drive, Lincoln, had also amassed 67,788 documents in bulk downloads onto hard drives, containing ‘a wealth’ of white supremist and antisemitic material.

Telling Judge Spencer what he had read since the sentencing hearing, John said: ‘I enjoyed Shakespeare more than I did Jane Austen but I still enjoyed Jane Austen by a degree.’

‘Well I find that encouraging,’ the judge replied.

Judge Spencer told John he acknowledged ‘publicity of this case’ had affected his rehabilitation.

John was told to attend court again in six months’ time where the judge would check his progress.

John (pictured) had amassed 67,788 documents in bulk downloads, which contained a wealth of white supremist and anti-Semitic material and police also found material related to a Satanist organisation

Forensic computer investigators found a radical publication from the 70s, The Anarchist Cookbook (pictured), which included diagrams and instructions on how to build explosives in his hard drive

‘I am encouraged about what you have written out for me and I am encouraged by your efforts to seek employment and I wish you well with that,’ Judge Spencer said.

The Attorney General has asked the Court of Appeal to review the ‘unduly lenient’ sentence handed to the defendant.

The decision by Suella Braverman QC to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal came after anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate sent an open letter, asking for the case to be considered under the unduly lenient sentence (ULS) scheme.

‘This sentence is sending a message that violent right-wing extremists may be treated leniently by the courts,’ the letter read.

On August 11 this year he was found guilty by a jury at Leicester Crown Court of possessing information likely to be useful for preparing an act of terror and the court heard the conviction had a maximum jail sentence of 15 years.

But Judge Spencer concluded his crime was likely to be ‘an act of teenage folly’ and an isolated incident.

He told John at the sentencing: ‘You are a lonely individual with few if any true friends.’

He added John was ‘highly susceptible’ to recruitment by others more prone to action but said: ‘I am not of the view that harm was likely to have been caused.’

He made John promise him not to research any more right-wing materials.

The judge then asked him: ‘Have you read Dickens? Austen? Start with Pride and Prejudice and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

‘Think about Hardy. Think about Trollope.

‘On January 4 you will tell me what you have read and I will test you on it.’ 

He added: ‘I will be watching you, Ben John, every step of the way. If you let me down you know what will happen.’ 

In January 2018 he had come to the attention of the authorities for his extreme views and had meetings with Prevent officers, which aims to de-radicalise young people at risk of extremism.

But in May 2018 John wrote a letter to his school claiming to be part of ‘The Lincoln Fascist Underground’, with a tirade against gay people and immigrants, which led to more intensive intervention by Prevent and psychiatric evaluation.

That did not stop him and in April 2019 he copied more than 9,000 right-wing and terror-related documents onto the hard drive of his computer, adding another 2,600 a few months later in August 2019.

Those documents were only discovered in January 2020 after John’s student accommodation was raided by police.

They included seven documents that the judge described as being ‘many, many viable instructions on how to make devastating explosions’. 

Lincolnshire Police had to carry out a forensic examination of his hard drives because they had been wiped by John, of Addison Drive, Lincoln, a month before the raid.

The documents included ‘a worrying amount of right-wing literature and imagery’.

In the UK, it is illegal to knowingly possess material that could assist in terrorist-related activities under Section 58 of the Terrorism Act. 

John had amassed 67,788 documents in bulk downloads, which contained a wealth of white supremist and anti-Semitic material and police also found material related to a Satanist organisation.

Judge Spencer said: ‘It is repellent, this content, to any right-thinking person.

‘This material is largely relating to Nazi, fascist and Adolf Hitler-inspired ideology.

‘But there was also a substantial quantity of more contemporary material espousing extreme right-wing, white-supremacist material.

‘You suggested at trial it was mere academic fascination – I reject that. My view is that to a significant degree you have aligned with these ideologies and to a significant degree have adopted the views expressed as your own.’

The bomb-making literature was examined by British military experts at Porton Down near Salisbury and seven of the documents had accurate guides to making firearms, ammunition and explosive devices.

But Mr Bentley, representing John, argued that his client was ‘very young’ and ‘not likely to cause harm’.

He said that despite still having the documents on his computer throughout 2019 he had been ‘engaging well’ with Prevent team officers at that time. Mr Bentley said the whole case again John was ‘really about not deleting items on a computer’, which the judge described as an ‘over-simplification’ of the case.

Mr Bentley said: ‘Violence is the necessary ingredient of terrorism. It is not the prosecution case he was planning a terrorist attack.

‘He was fascinated by extreme right-wing views and shared those views himself.

‘He was a young man who struggled with emotions, however he is plainly an intelligent young man and now has a greater insight.

‘He is by no means a lost cause and is capable of living a normal, pro-social life.’

At the end of the hearing, the judge commended all the officers who worked on the case.

Commenting on the sentence, Counter Terrorism Policing East Midlands Detective Inspector James Manning, who led the investigation, said: ‘This was a young man who could be anyone’s son, studying at university, and living one life in public, while conducting another in private.

‘He possessed a wealth of National Socialist and anti-Semitic material which indicated a fascination and belief in a white supremacist ideology along with support for an extreme satanic group which is increasingly of concern for law enforcement agencies.

‘The terrorist material he was found in possession of is extremely dangerous, and he acquired this to further his ideology.

‘It indicates the threat that he and other followers of this hateful ideology pose to national security.

‘It was not light reading, or material most would concern themselves with for legitimate reasons. This has been a long and complex investigation over the course of 11 months.’ 

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