A man from Preston has lost his appeal against the UK’s first conviction for inciting racial hatred online.

But the Court of Appeal in London reduced Stephen Whittle’s sentence of of two years and four months by six months.

Another man, Simon Sheppard , who was also convicted of inciting racial hatred, had his term of four years and 10 months cut by a year.

Whittle, 42, and Sheppard, 52, wer e jailed at Leeds Crown Court in July last year after they were charged, under the Public Order Act, with publishing racially inflammatory material, distributing racially inflammatory material and possessing racially inflammatory material with a view to distribution.

Whittle, of Avenham Lane, Preston, was found guilty of five offences and Sheppard, of Brook Street, Selby, North Yorkshire, was found guilty of 16.

During their first trial in 2008, they skipped bail and fled to California, where they sought asylum claiming they were being persecuted for their right-wing views, but were deported.

The police investigation began after a complaint about a leaflet called “Tales of the Holohoax”, which was pushed through the door of a Blackpool synagogue and traced back to a post office box in Hull registered to Sheppard.

Published material found later included images of murdered Jews alongside cartoons and articles ridiculing ethnic groups.

At the appeal, Sheppard’s counsel, Adrian Davies, challenged the convictions on the grounds of jurisdiction, the meaning of “publication” and whether the material on the internet was “written material” within the meaning of the Act.

He said the articles complained of were posted on a website in California where there was no doubt that they were “entirely lawful and enjoyed the highest degree of constitutional protection under the laws of the United States”.

There was no evidence that anyone in England and Wales, except for the police officer, who the Crown did not rely on as a member of the public under the Act, had ever read any of them.

“Despite this, Mr Sheppard has been sentenced to a longer term of imprisonment than Abu Hamza,” he told Lord Justice Scott Baker, Mr Justice Penry-Davey and Mr Justice Cranston.

Giving their ruling, Lord Justice Scott Baker said the trial judge was right to hold that he had jurisdiction to try the pair because a substantial measure of the activities constituting the crime took place in England.

He said the judge had also correctly addressed the issue of publication - the material in the case was available to the public despite the fact that the evidence went no further than establishing that one police constable downloaded it.

And the words “written material” in the Act were sufficiently wide to include articles in electronic form.

On the question of sentence, he noted that the judge had said he had rarely seen or read material that was so abusive and insulting in its content towards racial groups in this country.