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HITLER had his Battle of Berlin, Mosley his Cable Street — yet who could have predicted that the moment of reckoning for would-be British far-right leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (“Tommy Robinson”) would come courtesy of a Milton Keynes chicken restaurant?
Wing Kingz had only been open a matter of weeks when Yaxley-Lennon decided to visit with his children on October 30 — apparently overcoming his usual aversion to anything halal, as the meat at Wing Kingz is.
The restaurant was, in a sense, a victim of its own success. The quality of its food and the coolness of its US sports-bar-but-gourmet concept had created such a buzz, word had spread to the Yaxley-Lennon household that this was the place to be.
And so it was that there, in Marlborough Gate, Milton Keynes, that Yaxley-Lennon met his nemesis, in the form of a young, articulate, female Wing Kingz shift supervisor.
He’d been offered a table when staff recognised their unwelcome guest. The business is, and Yaxley-Lennon would later go on to emphasise, “black-owned,” and a number of the servers and customers are people of colour who understandably feel that racism can put you right off your food.
Accordingly, he was asked politely to leave.
But Yaxley-Lennon was never going to go quietly — the man notorious for turning both his phone camera and his faux moral outrage on anyone who crosses him, especially if there could be a buck in it, has made hundreds of thousands of pounds over the years in donations from various stunts.
So out came his mobile, and both chaos and comedy accordingly ensued.
Yaxley-Lennon began his standard practice of filming himself shrilly complaining about discrimination, and trying to incite harassment against whoever has upset him: “I’m in Wing Kingz, yeah,” he announced, pinkening with anger. “I’ve come in, they give me a table, yeah, and now they’re not going to be able to serve me.”
Accosting a male staff member, he asked: “Excuse me, bruv, who’s the owner? People have a problem with me which is probably to do with my politics — I want to know why.”
Here the young woman supervisor stepped in with masterly understatement: “I’m pretty sure you know why.”
At this, Yaxley-Lennon moved to attempted intimidation: “You need to ring [the owner] and tell him I’m going to bring 500 people and shut down this place!”
Addressing his audience, Yaxley-Lennon went on: “I’ve been told I need to leave. They can’t give me an answer, just who I am. Do you know what I found — it’s a black-owned business.
“So what I’m shocked at is that the biggest snowflakes in Milton Keynes can’t handle someone else having a different opinion. And apparently … staff don’t feel comfortable.”
Yaxley-Lennon finally left, but quickly posted the video online, at first not identifying the location of the restaurant but later doing so, and inviting his followers to leave reviews.
The restaurant received so many clearly malicious and fake ones, Tripadvisor suspended the facility, citing “an influx of submissions that do not describe a first-hand experience.”
Wing Kingz posted on its Facebook page: “[We] have received many fake negative reviews over the past few days. This is following an incident whereby our team were made to feel uncomfortable by a customer.
“Wing Kingz does not tolerate racism or discrimination in any form. We are a diverse business with customers and staff from all backgrounds and are committed to creating a safe, comfortable environment for everyone who steps through our doors.”
A week later, owner Aaron Murrell told me face to face that their phones had been ringing non-stop. “We didn’t know what was going on at first,” he said.
I’d decided to visit Wing Kingz myself and couldn’t think of a better dining companion than my friend Tasnime Akunjee. If his name seems familiar, it’s probably because he recently won a High Court victory representing young Syrian refugee Jamal Hijazi — against Yaxley-Lennon.
Having fled Syria, Jamal and his family had hoped to find peace in Britain. But so toxic has the climate become, in part due to the deliberate machinations of figures like Yaxley-Lennon, he was instead horrifically and relentlessly racially abused at his school in Huddersfield.
A video of Jamal, then 15, being assaulted in the playground went viral in October 2018. It showed him, his arm in a cast, being forced to the ground by his neck, while his attacker poured water on his face and threatened to drown him as other pupils looked on.
Seeing an opportunity, Yaxley-Lennon then stepped in to falsely claim, in two Facebook videos, that Jamal was not, in fact, a victim of racism but the aggressor — that he had “beat a girl black and blue and threatened to stab another pupil.”
When it finally came to the High Court this year, the judge found that Yaxley-Lennon had not proved his allegations and had behaved in a manner “calculated to inflame the situation.”
Yaxley-Lennon was ordered to pay £100,000 to Hijazi, with a further amount understood to be in the realm of £500,000 in legal costs.
I’d been meaning to celebrate this victory for decency with Tas for months, and now seemed an excellent time. Never before had I been able to combine anti-fascism with a restaurant review, let alone dinner: a welcome change from being spat at in the streets by neonazis — although I should add in their favour that the last time I encountered Yaxley-Lennon’s crew in person they inadvertently gave me the coolest nickname I’ve ever had, or am ever likely to: “That Doctor Bitch.”
I was especially looking forward to the evening, having seen hot Buffalo wings on the menu. I visit family in the Buffalo area of New York State regularly, and there, wings are a sacrament.
I’ve tried umpteen alleged iterations of Buffalo sauce in Britain but most of them would be drummed out of upstate New York, and rightly so. So I was keen to see what Wing Kingz could do.
As soon as we entered the spacious restaurant, we were greeted by friendly staff. The place was packed — sports screens on but volume off, and a great soundtrack.
There was no air of tension, no sense of being under siege, when we chatted to the owner, Murrell. He was remarkably calm and relaxed considering that this incident had potentially put him and his staff in danger, and that it could have been damaging for a young business already dealing with the difficulties of having opened during a pandemic.
It soon transpired that lovely and low-key as Murrell is, he’s also extremely astute. His business is very well connected and supported, not just locally but beyond Hertfordshire, and is not unduly troubled by the dregs of British right-wing extremism.
After putting in our order – the second-hottest Buffalo wings and sweet potato fries – I asked Tas about his willingness to take on “controversial” political cases, which hasn’t made for a quiet life (to date, he told me over dinner, his office has received over 1,500 complaints and threats from the far right).
When he acted for Shamima Begum – radicalised and groomed schoolgirl dubbed the “Isis Bride,” and hate figure to the far right and tabloids – his wife had also been subjected to media scrutiny and, Tas told me, quotes from her were fabricated.
What, I wondered, made him put his head so regularly above the parapet?
He said it was something of a family calling — and it became clear it came from an urge to do good, rather than any desire for notoriety.
“My grandfather always told his son, my father, to help the poor and needy,” he said. “My father became a medical doctor and a philanthropist; I chose to carry on the tradition in a different profession.”
His Muslim faith certainly informs this desire to be of service. Did he think twice, though, about becoming embroiled with the notoriously publicity-seeking Yaxley-Lennon, who has no qualms about doorstepping and encouraging harassment of his critics?
No, he said — having met the Hijazi family and seen the pain they were in, he felt it was a duty.
“The abuse Jamal suffered ultimately led to him and his family having to leave their home. He had to abandon his education. Yaxley-Lennon was responsible for this harm, some of the scars of which are likely to last for many years, if not a lifetime.”
He doesn’t say it, but it’s clear from reports that the support and solidarity of Jamal’s legal team, as well as his local MP and Leeds Asylum-Seekers Support Network, were crucial in starting to turn things round for the beleaguered Hijazi family.
A GoFundMe page raised more than £150,000, with donations flooding in from about 39 countries.
Jamal, now 18, has said: “I want to use this money to set up a charity to help young people of any race who go through problems at school or anywhere. Not just bullying but racism and any other problems young people experience.
“I’ve been through a lot; I want other young people to have the support that I had. I want to help people.”
Jamal can finally move forward; he’s looking at doing an apprenticeship: “Life is good. I’m a lot happier — it feels good to have won this case.”
Yaxley-Lennon is less happy after losing the case, saying: “I’ve not got any money. I’m bankrupt. I’ve struggled hugely with my own issues these last 12 months … I ain’t got it.”
After the best Buffalo wings I’ve ever had this side of the Atlantic (don’t tell my family, but actually better than some I’ve had that side too), Tas and I were delighted to leave Wing Kingz a £375 “tip,” donated in solidarity from anti-racist well-wishers; but not before we’d celebrated Tas’s four years of hard work against fascism in the best way possible — with sticky toffee pudding, ice cream and two spoons.
Like the victory over dark forces that he and Jamal are determined will spread light for others, it was a truly marvellous thing — and all the sweeter for being shared.
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