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A British police officer was found guilty on Thursday of being a member of a banned neo-Nazi group and possessing “extremist” material, including the manifesto of Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik.
Benjamin Hannam, 22, a probationary police constable with the London Metropolitan Police, is believed to be the first serving British officer to be convicted of a “terrorism” offence.
He was found guilty of belonging to National Action, a far-right organisation that was banned in 2016 after it praised the murder of Jo Cox, a female member of parliament who was killed in a frenzied street attack by a Nazi-obsessed loner.
National Action was the first far-right group to be outlawed in the United Kingdom since World War II. In 2018, one of its members pleaded guilty to planning to murder another female legislator with a sword and making threats to kill a police officer.
Following a trial at London’s Old Bailey court, Hannam was also convicted of lying on his police application forms, and possessing “terrorism” documents, police said. Legal restrictions on the case were lifted on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to separate charges of possessing indecent images of a child.
Hannam, who was suspended from duty and is set to face an expedited misconduct hearing, will be sentenced on April 23. He was granted bail ahead of his sentencing.
His first known dealings with National Action came in early 2016, six months before it was outlawed, but he continued with his involvement in the group and its offshoot NS131 after the ban, Richard Smith, head of London’s Counter Terrorism Command, told reporters.
The ideology of National Action was described in court as based on “Aryan purity” and a particular hatred of non-white groups, particularly Jews.
Hannam lied about having any involvement with a far-right group on his application to join the Metropolitan Police, which he submitted in 2018.
Detectives discovered his involvement in February 2020 following the leak of a database of members of a far-right online forum, Iron March, in which he had posted under the name “Anglisc”.
Hannam was arrested the following month at his home, where officers found a notebook referring to the far-right group, a guide on how to use knives and weapons, and the manifesto of Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011 in Norway’s worst peacetime atrocity.
Smith said the public would be concerned that someone who was a member of a banned group had managed to become a police officer, but the force acted quickly once his background was known.
The police checked back on cases Hannam had worked on, but found nothing of concern. Neither his colleagues nor any member of the public had raised issues about his behaviour.
“He would never have been able to join had we known then of his interest in the extreme right wing and his previous membership of National Action,” Smith said.
Police said a review of the vetting process was now under way.
In his defence, Hannam denied he had ever been a member of the group before or after it was banned, and said that he had been “desperate to impress” an older member at the organisation, who had given him free stickers and badges.
He told the court he had been attracted to fascism at the age of 16 because of its bold artwork, and contacted National Action after seeing its propaganda online.
“I was under the impression this was some kind of youth network,” he said.