Following a threat of legal action, British far-right activist Tommy Robinson has backed down from accusations he made against a Syrian schoolboy who was attacked in an incident shared widely on social media.
Earlier this week, footage emerged showing the 15-year-old – a refugee from Syria – being taunted, grabbed by the throat and pushed to the ground, as other students at Almondbury Community School in Huddersfield, northern England, looked on.
Robinson made allegations against the teenager Wednesday and Thursday in a number of Facebook and YouTube videos. By Friday, he had deleted the videos and admitted to posting a fake photograph purporting to show violence by a Muslim gang.
The videos were deleted after the lawyer for the boy’s family, Mohammed Akunjee, said his clients planned to sue the far-right agitator.
In a letter uploaded to Twitter on Thursday, Akunjee described Robinson’s claims as “false and defamatory allegations” and asked for the videos to be “removed immediately.”
“We wish to place you on notice that our client intends to pursue legal action against you in respect of the contents of these publications and you will shortly be receiving formal pre-action correspondence in this respect,” Akunjee’s letter read.
In a video posted on Facebook on Friday, Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, admitted to making a false claim but reiterated another allegation against the boy.
Addressing Robinson’s claims about the teenager, West Yorkshire Police said in a statement Thursday that they were “aware of rumours” but no reports had been made that “substantiate these claims.”
The video of the alleged assault on the Syrian teenager prompted widespread condemnation, and an online fundraising effort had nearly hit its target of £150,000 (around $192,000) by Friday, three days after it was launched.
Mohammed Tahir, who set up the GoFundMe fundraising campaign, said in a statement posted on Twitter: “I’m overwhelmed by the support that we’ve received and I can’t thank everyone enough for the generous donations they have made.”
It is not yet clear who filmed the incident. The Press Association news agency reported West Yorkshire Police as saying a 16-year-old boy had been interviewed over the attack and would appear in a youth court.
New footage emerged Wednesday showing a teenage girl in a pink hijab being pushed to the ground by teenagers. Akunjee confirmed to CNN that the girl was the Syrian boy’s sister.
West Yorkshire police said in a statement that it was “aware of a video showing a girl being assaulted at Almondbury Community School” and was “now liaising with the girl’s family.”
Almondbury Community School describes itself as “inclusive” on its website.
Its head teacher, Trevor Bowen, said in a statement that the safety and welfare of students was the school’s “number one priority” and that the “situation is being taken extremely seriously.”
“Since the incident occurred in October, the school, the local authority and the police have all taken action. We must allow the legal process to take its course, but I want to be absolutely clear that we do not tolerate unacceptable behavior of any sort in our school.”
Little known outside the far-right circles in which he has moved for the past 10 years or so, Robinson was among the most marginal of British political figures until he was jailed for breaking the strict rules that govern the reporting of British court cases earlier this year.
In November, the anti-European UK Independence Party said it had appointed Robinson as an adviser, in a move that signals the party’s further shift to the right.