The Crime? Terrorism. The Punishment? Classic Literature.

An ex-De Montfort University student was flagged for his terrorist tendencies. Instead of convicting him, a judge sentenced Ben John to English class.

Book Culture Classics

Twenty-one-year-old Ben John was flagged as a terror risk in England just after he turned eighteen. The government referred him to the Prevent program in the UK, which works to stop people from becoming terrorists and supporting terrorism. John was tagged for reading extreme right-wing literature and for downloading bomb-making instructions. On August 11, he was tried and convicted of possessing information that would likely be used for an act of terrorism. Despite the conviction, Judge Timothy Spencer concluded that John’s actions were isolated, and instead of sentencing him to the maximum jail sentence of fifteen years for planning an act of terrorism, Judge Spencer sentenced John to English class.

According to ITV, Judge Spencer stated that John’s actions were “an act of teenage folly” and that he is “not of the view that harm was likely to have been caused.” So instead of taking a terrorist off the streets and away from dangering his community, the Judge gave John a reading list. The list includes classic literature that one would have read in English class—Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, and Charles Dickens—to steer John away from white-supremacy literature. He is to return to court every four months to be tested on the literature, in addition to having his license suspended and requiring him to stay in touch with the police. However, anti-racism groups already believe that this is another example of a blatant white supremacist who got off scot-free because he is young and white.


While John was also sentenced to a jail time of two years (which, by the way, has been suspended for two years), this punishment does not seem to be enough for someone who wrote a letter than allegedly raged against gays, immigrants, and liberals. Ben John is a terrorist, and we shouldn’t be sure that literature tests will save him from ideologies that are already set in his head.

Let us know down below what you think about Judge Spencer’s decision. Does the punishment fit the crime in this case? If you’re interested in reading any of the classic literature on this list, check out Bookstr’s articles on the literary canon here.