The co-founder of the far-right English Defence League (EDL) has said that what he had to say to Alnwick students would have been beneficial.
Tommy Robinson, who left the EDL in October last year and teamed up with the Quilliam Foundation, a de-radicalisation thinktank, was due to appear with a senior researcher from the group, Usama Hasan, at the Duchess’s Community High School this coming Monday as part of a tour of schools.
But the visit, which was first announced in student newspaper The Alnwickist, published in the Gazette last month, hit the national headlines earlier this week, followed not long after by the news the visit had been cancelled.
The controversial 31-year-old, who has convictions for assault, drug and public-order offences and is a former football hooligan, recently appeared on a television programme with Muslim political commentator Mohammed Ansar as the pair attempted to build bridges between the two groups with opposing views.
While Mr Robinson always said that the EDL was against radical Islam, some of its members gained a reputation for racism and extremism.
And speaking to the Gazette yesterday, Mr Robinson said: “I do think what I would have had to say to those kids – I think they would have listened to me – I think it would have been beneficial.”
He added that in majority-white areas with very few Muslims, there’s a possibility that Muslim youngsters can be targeted.
And the cancellation of his visit to the school came as no surprise.
“I don’t blame the school for cancelling in all honesty,” he said.
“When the news got out there, I knew instantly the school would cancel and should cancel.
“With regards to my profile – and the school has the safety of the pupils to worry about – if people know the date and time of my appearance, there could be demonstrators.”
Referring to Usama Hasan, who was due to accompany him, Mr Robinson said: “He went and fought a holy way (Mr Hasan has said that he fought in Afghanistan against the Russian occupation) and yet I seem to be toxic.
“The simple reason is because he’s Muslim and I’m not, I’m a working-class white lad.
“Unfortunately, that’s the message that gets out to kids – that we don’t have freedom of speech, we don’t have freedom of expression.
“Nothing negative would have come out of me and Usama speaking to the kids, I honestly believe that.
“You can be opposed to extremism, that’s honourable, but only a moron would blame it on all Muslims.
“Me and Usama could have broken down that line.
“I respect the RE teacher (Louis Spence, who had organised the visit), that’s what school should be about.
“It’s about difference of opinions, it’s about learning about life and it’s certainly a life experience I have had.”
Mr Robinson said that he won’t be going into any other schools now, but will put out a video to call on any school in the country brave enough to host him.