The first race libel trial in British history ended today with a six months’ prison sentence for Arnold S. Leese, publisher, and a $100 fine for Walter Whitehead, printer of The Fascist, on an indictment arising from a published charge that Jews murder Christians for ritual purpose.
The defendants were found guilty by a jury on two counts of an indictment charging them with conspiring to print and publish The Fascist, containing “divers libelous and scandalous statements about His Majesty’s subjects of the Jewish faith” and effecting public mischief by such publication.
They were acquitted of four other counts charging intent to provoke ill-will, hostility, disaffection and discontent among His Majesty’s subjects.
The case was the first in which defendants were accused of libelling a community and was expected to have a bearing on future prosecutions in cases where anti-Semitic speeches are held likely to provoke disorder.
The charges were based on an article published in the July 4 issue of The Fascist, organ of the Imperial Fascist League, which is not connected with Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. The article accused Jews of practicing ritual murder and called for sterilization of the Jews and a boycott against them.
Leese refused the alternative of a fine. Conducting his own defense, the publisher insisted on cross-examination that Jews still practiced ritual murder in London’s East End.
Turning to a police inspector, he asked whether it was not true that children vanished in the East End every year. Sir Walter Greaves- Lord, presiding justice, ruled the question out of order on the ground that the inspector would be acting without evidence in assuming that children who disappeared had been murdered for ritual purposes.
Leese, in an address to the jury, demanded acquittal in the interests of free speech.
Whitehead, also conducting his own defense, denied any intention of causing ill-will or disaffection among British subjects of different faiths.
The prosecution was conducted by Sir Donald Somervell, Attorney General.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.