Strange the things you think about, when you’re standing in the cold being called a paedophile by drunken fascists. 

I was thinking about the strawberry cake I hadn’t had since I was eleven, and the trouble it caused. 

I’ve never discovered how my adoptive Mum, Jenny, made it, but it was amazing: between a sponge and light shortbread, with fresh strawberries and real cream – pretty decadent in a family watching every penny. 

It was my fifth time counter-protesting Tommy Robinson in Telford, where he claimed to be protesting grooming gangs and fighting for justice for the victims – a cause no one could argue with. If it was genuine. 

Around 500 of his supporters were gathered in a car park to hear him but didn’t seem particularly interested in doing so.  

Brandishing cans of lager and waving flags (mostly the cross of St George, but at least one Israeli flag  too, a feature on Robinsons’ demos since he began receiving funding by groups like the pro-Israel Middle East Forum) they stood with their backs to Robinson and the stage preferring to shout instead at antifascist counter-protestors from Stand up to Racism, Unite Against Fascism, and local groups and unions. Robinson’s men made occasional attempts to surge past the lines of police to get at us, and the shouting and chanting never stopped: 

‘Nonce! Paedo!’ 

I was remembering that one day my godfather’s wife made that strawberry cake at her house, as a surprise. She would have had to ask my mum for the recipe and must have gone to a lot of trouble. But I couldn’t eat it. I still feel a twinge of guilt recalling how sad this made her, sitting opposite me in the kitchen with tears in her eyes. 

Looking back, it was strange she didn’t wonder what her husband had been doing with a little girl in the front room just beforehand, with the door firmly shut. Did he tell her not to come in? She never did in all the eight years it went on, from when I was four. 

My adoptive mum died when I was 13. She was the love of my life, and she never knew – I never had the words to tell her – and there were the usual threats of dire consequences if I did. 

Although the world ended for me that day, there was one mitigating thing to set against the darkness – like the tiny creature struggling out of Pandora’s Box after all the horrors flew free. He couldn’t manipulate my tender-hearted mother into making me see him anymore. 

After the cremation I stood outside in the cold, wearing my mum’s knee length boots, feeling awkward –  no one knows what to say to you – when my godfather came over, put his arm round my shoulders and steered me away, doubtless for a pious chat about heaven – he was outwardly very Christian. But this time I shrugged him off, once and for all, and walked back alone to where the funeral flowers and mourners were gathered. 

A couple of years later I was a punk and an anti-racist and had a fully-formed, passionate hatred of two sorts of people that’s never left me: fascists and child abusers.   

So, it was strange to be standing in Telford being called one, by the other

One thing Robinson will never mention, of course, is the incredible intersection on the Venn diagram of abusers and the far right. 

When Robinson set up the English Defence League (EDL), one of his co-founders was a man called Richard Price. In 2010 Price was convicted for the possession of indecent images of children. Robinson’s response was to claim ‘Pricey’ had been ‘stitched up’. The EDL launched a campaign to free him, calling him a hero. 

Supporting one paedophile may seem like carelessness; but I’ve compiled a list of 66 recently convicted far-right sex offenders and child rapists. Not one of them has been condemned by Robinson (all of them are white, none Muslim).  

Sixty six is a lot, given the low actual membership of the far right; and, especially when we consider 5 out of 6 rapes are believed to go unreported, and, of 70,000 rapes recorded annually, only 5% result in a charge. Convictions are even lower. 

There may be many more far-right paedophiles out there like Elliot Jones, ironically of the EDL’s self-styled “Anti-Paedophile Squad”, convicted of trying to incite a child into sexual activity in 2013. Or Leigh Mcmillan, senior EDL figure, sentenced to 17 years after abusing a 10-year-old schoolgirl 100 times in the 1990s.

Robinson didn’t condemn them, or EDL supporter, Robert Ewing, 52 when he murdered 15-year-old Paige Chivers in 2007, after grooming her. 

How does the far right actually treat the victims they claim to support? 

It was at another Telford counter-protest that I first ‘outed’ myself as a survivor and read out the words of my friend, Caitlin Spencer, who suffered years of grooming. 

When trying to escape, she fell in with a group presenting themselves as activists against grooming gangs. She was vulnerable and grateful for support, and they claimed to be raising money for victims to have therapy. But behind closed doors she began to hear Islamophobic comments; and they were using an edited version of her own story, portraying it as abuse by only Asian men – in fact she was raped by white men, too. 

Caitlin had begun to sense how dangerous these people were, but still stood up to them about this: and, when she asked them not to twist her words, they told her children should be drowned, and she should kill herself. The money raised ‘for survivors’ never got to them. 

Since then I’ve begun speaking openly as a survivor at these protests and on behalf of my own small group, Survivors against Fascism. I’ve had harassment, threats and abuse from Robinson’s friends and supporters too – I should be raped by Muslims; I should be killed. My child has been threatened.

Another survivor Robinson harassed so seriously that it contributed to her death was Edel Carroll, a well-loved and courageous anti-fascist and mother, also known as Lola. Robinson and his team found her home address and door-stepped her. Caroll had already been violently assaulted by another fascist group. She was given six Osman warnings by the police – only issued if there are such credible threats against an individual they are believed to be at imminent risk of murder. Edel was found dead at her home in July 2018 after taking a fatal overdose of prescription drugs. An inquest heard she had been living in fear after receiving death and rape threats. 

In her last note she wrote about: “… opposing racists like Tommy Robinson and the EDL… got me battered.”

Fascists joked online about her death, and still do: one boasted he had dug up and sodomised her corpse (she was in fact cremated) 

Even victims compliant with the far right aren’t safe: two members of Robinson’s team were recently discovered to have been having sex with vulnerable young survivors in Telford. 

One, Robinson’s right-hand man, a convicted kidnapper named Daniel Thomas, portrays himself as a Christian husband and father. However, court documents allege that he previously had an affair with Lisa Barbounis, a married US communications director now working for a Texas congressman. The documents state that during the affair Thomas would buy cocaine for Ms Barbounis, who was in the UK helping the ‘Free Tommy’ campaign on behalf of the Middle East Forum. The MEF later claimed she had diverted funds to Thomas. When the mother of Thomas’s children found out about the relationship, the documents allege Barbounis used her position in the US House of Representatives to threaten her. 

Thomas had to ‘step back;’ from the Telford campaign after his sexual exploitation of victims came to light but is still involved behind the scenes. 

Robinson has also come close to freeing grooming gangs with his antics. 

In 2017, during the trial of one gang (Robinson himself had not contributed in any way to getting them arrested or charged) he turned up to film proceedings against court orders, risking a mistrial and the perpetrators walking free. We can assume Robinson knew this as he’d recently received media training from far-right Canadian outfit Rebel Media, then paying him a considerable sum as a ‘journalist’

 He was spared prison on that occasion, on the promise not to repeat the offence. Yet after this, when he was facing no prison time, Rebel Media boss Ezra Levant, registered and paid for a website called ‘Free Tommy’. 

Two years later, Robinson committed the same offence, and persisted in filming despite warnings by court officers he was risking a mistrial. He went to jail that time and is understood to have made £1 million plus from donations to the ‘Free Tommy’ campaign.

This International Women’s Day, and always, we should remember two things:  brave women like Spencer and Carroll who stand up against racism and fascism, and the clear and present danger fascists will ALWAYS present to women and girls, whoever they are. 

Last word to Caitlin: ‘No one opposes anyone who genuinely wants to help victims. But we do oppose the further exploitation of victims by those looking to draw worried parents into their trap, or make a quick buck off someone else’s pain. I can honestly say that some of the actions of these far-right bullies have led me to feel exactly the same darkness I felt while I was being trafficked.

And I guarantee you I am not the only victim who has felt this way. It’s absolutely vile and needs to stop.’

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