The leaders of far-right extremist group Britain First have been jailed for anti-Muslim hate crimes after targeting people they incorrectly believed were involved in an ongoing rape trial.
Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen were convicted on several counts of religiously-aggravated harassment following a trial at Folkestone Magistrates’ Court, which heard their actions could have caused rapists to walk free.
Fransen was sentenced to 36 weeks imprisonment and Golding for 18 weeks by a judge who said their crimes were “deliberately planned against targeted victims”.
Judge Justin Barron said their words and actions “demonstrated hostility” towards Muslims and Islam, adding: “I have no doubt it was their joint intention to use the facts of the case for their own political ends.
“It was a campaign to draw attention to the race, religion and immigrant background of the defendants.”
The judge said the court had received a number of emails both in the defendants’ support and against them, but the verdict was based ”solely on admissible evidence heard in court”.
Golding, 36, was convicted of one count of religiously aggravated harassment and acquitted on two others.
His deputy, 31-year-old Fransen, was found guilty of three counts of the same offence and cleared of one.
They were arrested in May after distributing leaflets and posting of videos during a rape trial at Canterbury Crown Court, where three Muslim men and a teenager were later convicted and jailed.
In one incident, Fransen went to the home of one of the defendants, Tamin Rahmani, and shouted racist abuse through the front door.
His pregnant partner Kelli Best was alone with their two children, aged three years and 18 months, at the time of the incident on 9 May.
In a video played in court, Fransen could be seen banging on the door and shouting: “Come out and face me you disgusting rapist, come on.”
Prosecutors said it was one of several incidents of Fransen and Golding “filming and harassing people” they incorrectly believed were involved in the trial.
“In each case, they instead targeted innocent members of the public,” a spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.
“They filmed the abuse and then released it on social media and through the Britain First website.
“They also posted offensive leaflets through the letterboxes of houses in the area where the rape trial defendants lived.”
Fransen denied all charges and claimed she did not use the phrase “Muslim bastards”, or say that all Muslims are rapists.
Golding also denied the charges and said he was only acting as Fransen’s cameraman.
The defendants, both of Beeches close in Penge, will be sentenced later in the afternoon.
Their actions endangered the trial of three men and a 17-year-old boy who were jailed in September for raping a drunk 16-year-old girl who had asked them for directions, after taking her to a flat above a kebab and pizza restaurant in Ramsgate.
Jaswant Narwal, from the CPS, said: “The prosecution case demonstrated these defendants were not merely exercising their right to free speech but were instead aiming religiously-aggravated abuse at innocent members of the public.
“The victims suffered the distress of the abuse followed by additional stress when the footage was uploaded to the internet.
“This offending also related to an ongoing criminal trial and the actions taken by Fransen and Golding could easily have derailed the justice process.”
The “campaign” was one of a series of similar stunts by Britain First, which selectively highlights crimes it believes to be convicted by defendants from Muslim backgrounds.
The group gained international notoriety when Donald Trump shared several of Fransen’s Twitter posts last year, sparking a diplomatic row after Theresa May condemned the action.
Both Fransen and Golding have since been banned from Twitter in a crackdown on extremism and hate speech, but Britain First continues to have a large following on Facebook, were its official page is “liked” by more than 2 million people.
They are due to stand trial in Northern Ireland next month over separate allegations of inciting hatred at the “Northern Ireland Against Terrorism” rally in Belfast.
Britain First was attempting to use their imprisonment to recruit supporters and further its narrative of being victimised by authorities for “free speech”.
The group quoted Fransen as calling Wednesday a “sad day for British justice”, with a spokesperson claiming her and Golding’s only crime is “loyalty”.
Britain First, which started as a splinter group from the British National Party, is believed to have fewer than a hundred active members.
It has forged links with extreme nationalist movements across Europe, seeing Fransen attend a march in Poland where she called Islam a “cancer moving through Europe”, adding: “Our children are being bombed, our children are being groomed and our government does nothing.”
The Finsbury Park terror attacker, Darren Osborne, read Britain First posts before his attempted massacre of Muslim worshippers, while neo-Nazi Thomas Mair repeatedly shouted the group’s name while murdering Labour MP Jo Cox.
Britain First is among the organisations perpetuating the idea of a cultural “war against Islam”, a report found last week after police revealed that four far-right and 10 Islamist terror plots have been foiled in the last year.
“Fascist organisations are growing, particularly when mainstream politicians such as Trump and others in Europe ape far right rhetoric,” said Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism. “It is high time that they be held responsible for hate speech.”
This post originally appeared on independent