A 21-year-old who police have described as a white supremacist could now face jail time after a judge initially advised him to read some classic novels.
Ben John was handed a two-year suspended sentence in August after he was found guilty of possessing information useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, including a document containing diagrams and instructions on how to construct explosive devices and hard drives filled with ‘a wealth’ of white supremacist and anti-Semitic material.
During his hearing, Judge Timothy Spencer QC reportedly asked John whether he’d read the works of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen before advising he ‘start with Pride And Prejudice and Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities.’
He encouraged the 21-year-old, from Lincoln, to ‘Think about Hardy. Think about Trollope’ as he handed down his sentence, which could have been a maximum of 15 years in prison.
Following the news of John’s suspended sentence and apparent assigned reading, the chief executive of anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate, Nick Lowles, wrote an open letter to the Attorney General’s office asking that John’s case be considered under the unduly lenient sentence (ULS) scheme.
The scheme, according to Metro, covers a variety of serious offences including certain types of hate crimes and some terror-related offences.
In the letter, Lowles wrote: ‘A suspended sentence and a suggested reading list of English classics for a terror conviction is unduly lenient for a crime of this nature. This sentence is sending a message that violent right-wing extremists may be treated leniently by the courts.’
Lincolnshire Police also announced it would seek to appeal John’s sentence, after which the Attorney General’s office stepped in to handle the proceedings.
A spokesperson for the office said: ‘I can confirm that the Attorney General has referred Ben John’s sentence to the Court of Appeal as she agrees that it appears unduly lenient.’
The decision about whether to increase John’s sentencing now lies with the Court of Appeal.
The 21-year-old first came to the attention of counter-terrorism officers in 2018, when he penned a letter titled Eternal Front – Lincolnshire Fascist Underground, BBC News reports.
He was arrested in January 2020 before being charged with offences under the Terrorism Act, including possessing documents on combat, homemade weapons and explosives.
Lincolnshire Police have explained John was part of an online community known as the Extreme Right Wing, which refers to those who commit criminal activity motivated by a political or cultural view.
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