LONDON (Sep. 18)
The first race libel case in British history opened today in the Central Criminal Court when Arnold Leese, publisher, and Walter Whitehead, printer of The Fascist, weekly organ of the Imperial Fascist League, went on trial for seditious libel against the Jews of England.
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the six libel counts, based primarily on charges contained in the July 4 issue of the publication that Jews murdered Christians for ritual purposes.
Sir Donald Somervell, Attorney-General, in an opening address, declared that Leese’s intention was “to endanger the peaceful relations between the Jews and their fellow subjects, and to render the Jews liable to suspicion, affront and boycott.”
Referring to The Fascist’s demand for sterilisation of the Jews, Sir Donald said, “The suggestion is revolting to an ordinary persons. The whole passage means that the persons to whom it referred are so unspeakable in character and nature that the ordinary person would be anxious to exterminate them or drive them from England.”
Before adjourning the trial until Monday, Presiding Justice GreavesLord warned the jury not to let their political views influence their judgment and to consider the case on the evidence alone.
The courtroom was crowded with spectators when the trial opened this morning. The defendants waived the right to representation by counsel.
Opening the case for the prosecution, Attorney-General Somervell said the six counts of the indictment did not indicate any desire on the Crown’s part to press the defendants unduly, but indicated “a desire to afford the judge an opportunity of ruling on the general principle of law in the case.”
Liberty of the press allows freedom of criticism, which may also be directed by one section of the community against another, “against Englishmen, Jews, Scotchmen or Irishmen,” he said, “but a limit has always been set by law on justifiable liberty or unjustifiable license.”
“It was unlawful to print or publish libelous words to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between two classes of His Majesty’s subjects or to incite some of His Majesty’s subjects to raise discontent and disaffection among certain of His Majesty’s subjects,” Sir Donald asserted. “Further, things should not be said or written that are calculated to disturb public order and strike at the root of the life we all live as members of the community.”
The indictment charges the defendants with intent to provoke ill-will, hostility, discontent and disaffection “between His Majesty’s subjects of the Jewish faith and those not of the Jewish faith;” also “conspiring together with intent to print and publish The Fascist, containing divers scandalous and libelous statements,” and printing The Fascist on July 4, 1936, so assisting to create public mischief.”