A university student who downloaded nearly 70,000 white supremacist and neo-Nazi documents and bomb-making instructions has been instructed to read classic novels including Pride and Prejudice to avoid prison time.
Judge Timothy Spencer QC told Ben John, 21, 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.
John will have to return to court every four months to be tested on his reading by the judge after avoiding jail ‘by the skin of his teeth’.
He had first been identified as a terror risk days after his 18th birthday and was referred to the Prevent programme but carried on downloading ‘repellant’ right-wing documents as well as a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook, which included diagrams and instructions on how to build explosives.
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
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 hearing today: ‘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.’
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)
He added: ‘I will be watching you, Ben John, every step of the way. If you let me down you know what will happen.’
He then told John’s barrister, Harry Bentley: ‘He has by the skin of his teeth avoided imprisonment.’
John was convicted of terrorism after a 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.
He was given a two-year jail sentence suspended for two years plus a further year on licence, monitored by the probation service.
He was also given a five-year Serious Crime Prevention Order requiring him to stay in touch with the police and let them monitor his online activity and up to 30 days on a Healthy Identity Intervention programme.
Earlier in the sentencing hearing Ben Lloyd, prosecuting, told the court John had failed to respond to warnings in the past.
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.
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
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.
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
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.’