In late 2019, an anonymous hacker, identified only as “antifa-data,” leaked the usernames, emails, and IP addresses of every account on a notorious white supremacist message board. One of those accounts, authorities soon learned, appeared to belong to a police constable.
Now that London Metropolitan Police officer, 22-year-old Benjamin Hannam, has become the first British police officer convicted of terrorism-related crimes, BBC News reported.
Hannam was convicted on Thursday of lying about his membership in a far-right group called National Action to pass background checks and secure a job with the police. He also pleaded guilty to possessing a prohibited image of a child, the Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement.
National Action was identified as a terrorist organization in the United Kingdom and prosecutors described it as “a neo-Nazi organisation that espoused homophobia, antisemitism, and racism and promoted violence and inter-racial hatred.” Joining the group became a criminal offense in the U.K. in 2016.
Hannam denied that he was ever a member of the group, prosecutors said, but his online posts and other evidence suggest he was once actively involved.
“Benjamin Hannam would not have got a job as a probationary police constable if he’d told the truth about his membership of a banned far-right group,” Jenny Hopkins, head of the special crime and counterterrorism division of the Crown Prosecution Service, said in a statement Thursday.
Hannam first joined the London Metropolitan Police in 2018. Growing up, friends and family testified at trial, he hadn’t shown overt signs of racism, the BBC reported; he had a girlfriend of African Muslim heritage, and a step-grandparent who is Jewish. But one teacher told the court that he’d also submitted a paper that was alarmingly anti-Muslim, according to the BBC.
He was still a probationary officer on the police force when the agency found his name among the data of more than 1,200 far-right extremists who had posted to the white supremacist website Iron March.
The Iron March user data was hacked and published online in November 2019 by an anonymous account that belonged to an anti-fascist individual or group.
The Metropolitan Police began scouring the leaked data for U.K.-based extremists when they came across the username “Anglisc,” Richard Smith, head of the force’s counterterrorism command, said at a news conference, the Independent reported.
“We did some work on that particular account back to 2016 and linked it to Hannam’s address,” Smith said. “At that point our investigation revealed that he was, by then, a probationary police officer.”
Smith credited the Iron March data leak for launching the inquiry that led police to identify Hannam’s association with National Action.
“Clearly, in this case the Iron March leak triggered the investigation,” he said, “but that’s not to say we wouldn’t have received information from elsewhere and would not have identified him.”
When police officials dug into his leaked posts, they found that Hannam had posted many times on the Iron March site, which was known to attract self-avowed neo-Nazis, from 2016 to 2017.
He posted one selfie that showed him wearing a Nazi uniform with a “superimposed ‘Hitler’ mustache” drawn on his upper lip, prosecutors said. In another image, he spray-painted a National Action symbol on the side of a storm drain. Another photo showed Hannam boxing in the woods with other members of the extremist group.
In an introductory post on the site, Hannam wrote that he had “grown desperate” after “seeing what’s happening to my country,” the Independent reported. In messages and posts he described himself as a fascist and said he was part of the London branch of National Action. In April 2016, Hannam replied to another message board member who expressed interest in joining National Action: “always good for more people to join, means we can arrange more stuff which is just more fun for everybody!” he wrote.
Investigators also found evidence that he had attended the group’s meetings in Liverpool and London in 2016.
Because Hannam encouraged others interested in the group, prosecutors argued that he was “not just a member but sought to recruit others,” the Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement on Thursday.
Investigators used CCTV footage to show that Hannam had attended a National Action meeting at a pub in January 2017 alongside individuals who were later convicted of terrorism-related offenses, prosecutors said. Police also found Hannam possessed a USB drive filled with extremist content, including a manual on “how to use a knife to seriously injure or kill someone” and the writings of Anders Breivik, a right-wing extremist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.
A review of Hannam’s work for the Metropolitan Police done by Scotland Yard found no evidence that his official actions were influenced by his extremist ideologies, BBC News reported.
A judge released Hannam, who has been suspended from police work, on conditional bail until his sentencing hearing on April 23.
“[Hannam’s] lies have caught up with him and he’s been exposed as an individual with deeply racists beliefs who also possessed extremist publications of use to a terrorist,” Hopkins said Thursday.