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Calls to discipline judge who spared women guilty of terror offence

A judge is under fire for liking a Pro-Palestine post on LinkedIn (Nick Ansell/PA)
A judge is under fire for liking a Pro-Palestine post on LinkedIn (Nick Ansell/PA)

A judge who “decided not to punish” three women who displayed paraglider images at a protest has come under fire after appearing to support a social media post calling for a “free Palestine”.

Calls for an investigation into the claims came as Heba Alhayek, 29; Pauline Ankunda, 26; and Noimutu Olayinka Taiwo, 27; were found guilty of a terror offence in the wake of the incident at a pro-Palestinian march in central London a week after Hamas militants entered Israel.

The trio were spared jail after Deputy Senior District Judge Tan Ikram said he had decided their lesson had been “well learned”.

Now the judge is facing allegations of a possible conflict of interest amid claims he liked a message on LinkedIn which had been posted by a barrister accused of promoting conspiracy theories that Israel had allowed the October 7 attacks.

Campaigners called for the ruling to be reviewed and for the judge to face disciplinary action after his alleged social media activity emerged in the wake of the sentence.

A screen grab shared on social media appeared to show the judge’s account had liked the three-week-old post from Sham Uddin, which read: “Free Free Palestine. To the Israeli terrorist both in the United Kingdom, the United States, and of course Israel you can run, you can bomb but you cannot hide – justice will be coming for you.”

The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), which claimed Judge Ikram had liked a post, alleged the activity suggested possible bias.

But the judge said he “didn’t know he had liked the post” and “if he did, it was a genuine mistake”, according to comments issued on his behalf by the Judicial Press Office.

Suella Braverman comments
Former home secretary Suella Braverman has called for the sentence to be reviewed (Justin Tallis/PA)

The PA news agency has been unable to independently verify the post was liked by the judge’s account. The LinkedIn profile appears to have been removed from the platform.

At Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, the women lowered their heads and wept in the dock as the verdict was read out.

They displayed the images on October 14 2023, just seven days after militants from Hamas launched a surprise assault to enter Israel from Gaza on October 7 before killing more than 1,000 Israelis.

Some of the attackers used paragliders to get over Israeli defences and get into the country.

The women denied charges under terrorism laws of carrying or displaying an article to arouse reasonable suspicion that they are supporters of the banned organisation, Hamas.

But prosecutors argued it was “no coincidence” the defendants were displaying the images so soon after the attack.

Lawyers for the group suggested they were actually displaying images of a parachute emoji rather than paragliders, and that flying-related images were a common symbol of peace in the region.

Judge Ikram agreed the image had been “wrongly described” as a paraglider by the police and prosecution, adding there was no evidence that any of women supported Hamas.

Pro-Palestinian demonstration court case
Left to right, Heba Alhayek, Pauline Ankunda and Noimutu Olayinka Taiwo were found guilty of terror offences but received conditional discharges (PA)

But he said it “matters not” because the issue came down to what a “reasonable person” would think the picture meant and he did not believe the image would be interpreted “merely as a symbol of freedom”.

Handing each woman a 12-month conditional discharge, meaning they will not face punishment unless they commit further offences, Judge Ikram said: “You crossed the line, but it would have been fair to say that emotions ran very high on this issue.”

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said displaying the images amounted to the “glorification of the actions” of Hamas.

Claudia Mendoza, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, branded the sentence “woefully inadequate” and described the judge’s remarks as “extremely surprising”.

A CAA spokesman said: “We are sharing our findings with the Crown Prosecution Service, which may wish to appeal the verdict, and we are considering various legal options. We are also submitting a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO).”

Downing Street said it had referred the case to the Attorney General. A source said: “Serious questions are being raised in Government on how a judge posting this online was able to preside over this landmark case and what this means for the sentencing decision. It’s deeply troubling.”

Former home secretary and attorney general Suella Braverman said in an X post: “Utterly shocking that a member of the judiciary may have behaved in this way.

“With antisemitism at an all-time high, judges must be impartial and beyond reproach. Justice must be done and it must also be seen to be done. The sentence must be reviewed.”

Mr Uddin, a barrister at Kings Bench Walk Chambers who says he is standing to be an independent MP in east London, has been at the centre of media reports amid allegations he posted a string of anti-Israel posts including a conspiracy theory that Israel knowingly allowed the attacks to take place to “expel” Palestinians.

Sharing media coverage surrounding Judge Ikram on LinkedIn, Mr Uddin said in a post: “All because a judge liked my LinkedIn post – tonight, the Israel lobby have made me more famous. They have been reporting about me in the news.”

The Judicial Press Office said it does not comment on whether complaints regarding judicial conduct had been received, or the status of the complaints. Outcomes of investigations are published on by the JCIO.

The Attorney General’s Office is understood to have received several referrals arguing the sentence was unduly lenient.

But a spokeswoman said the sentence was not eligible to be reviewed because it was not handed down in a crown court, which deals with the most serious criminal cases.

A CPS spokesperson said: “We are carefully considering any future actions in relation to this case.”