Sitting in a quiet corner of a Wetherspoons pub near Paddington Station, the small group attracted little attention from other patrons.
But for a fresh-faced 17-year-old boy sipping a Coca-Cola next to a mason and bouncer, listening to the stories of a handsome, charismatic stranger, it was “an awakening.”
Benjamin Hannam, now 22, would later describe his excitement during the fateful first meeting with the neo-Nazi group, National Action, on March 6, 2016, writing in his diary that they are ‘a good bunch of guys’ and he ‘can’t’ wait to get more involved ‘.
Within two days of watching propaganda videos of the banned terror group, Hannam was “completely impressed” and eagerly described his ideology to other members as “fascist.”
Two years later, Hannam was patrolling the streets of London in uniform as a probation officer of Scotland Yard after somehow passing the vetting process – despite continuing to secretly download Nazi material, including a cartoon of a school child who wrote ‘I miss u Hitler’.
Yesterday, Scotland Yard struggled to explain how the neo-Nazi recruit managed to slip under the radar.
But to understand Hannam’s terrifyingly short journey from teenage fascist to terrorist, it is necessary to go further back.
Benjamin Hannam (pictured), now 22, would later describe his excitement at the fateful first meeting with the neo-Nazi group, National Action, on March 6, 2016, writing in his diary that they are “ quite a bunch of guys ” and he “ can don’t wait to get more involved ‘
Raised in Enfield, North London by a single mother who had to live alone with four children after his father left as a scaffold builder, the autistic Hannam was referred to a behavioral emotional support team at a young age.
Describing himself as ‘in control of the house’, he told the jury that he was close to his gay grandfather and Jewish step-grandfather, but neither was able to fill his father’s void.
His bigoted views quickly became apparent when he attended Winchmore School in Enfield.
History teacher Lisa Hughes recalled that during a Brexit debate, in which Hannam spoke for leaving the European Union, he made “inappropriate” anti-immigration comments and “seemed offensive to students.”
She later declined to submit his A-level political dissertation due to the 16-year-old’s ‘intolerant’ view of Islam.
Hannam spent three years in sixth grade, but failed to get enough grades in economics, history, and politics. In class, he raged against Marxists, and was referred to guidance counselor Hafida Zitouni.
Over the course of 15 sessions, Hannam poured out his heart and spoke of his anger at his rejection by his girlfriend’s Mauritian Muslim parents.
Pictured: An image found on Hannam’s iPhone showing him in a police uniform with a Hitler-style mustache on top of his face
He described how her strict parents had always ‘hated’ him during their three-and-a-half-year secret relationship, even though he tried to study Islam and learned to parrot verses from the Qur’an.
Frustrated and lonely, the 16-year-old strayed from studying the Eleven Language of the Lord of the Rings and playing Dungeons and Dragons into a dark fascination with fascism.
When his relationship faltered, Hannam began to research his girlfriend’s faith and submitted an essay to teachers on the development of ideologies, comparing National Socialism and Islam.
He said he had “always had a soft spot for fascism and National Socialism,” but his “final push” was to study anti-Semitism in its sixth form.
“It wasn’t all bad,” he told fellow extremists. “I had to study the Nazi racial ideology and learned the value of a book about Adolf Hitler, which I really liked.”
Hannam (circled) can be seen at a Yates Bar in Swindon on January 15, 2017, where he met NA co-founder Alex Davies and others
Through a controversial image-sharing website, Hannam was drawn to National Action’s daring artwork and imagery, which he compared to the Star Wars soldiers known as ‘stormtroopers’.
Hannam was young, susceptible and socially awkward, and a prime target for the group that offered friendship to the lonely misfit. He told jurors, “I’ve struggled socially for as long as I can remember. I struggled in school.
‘I only had a very small group of friends. In high school my interests were fantasy like Dungeons and Dragons. I could not
talk to everyone about politics. I felt very lonely. He emailed the London branch of National Action after seeing co-founder Benjamin Raymond say he wanted ‘university-educated young men’ on television.
It prompted him to join the London branch and meet the group led by a figure named Ivan at the pub near Paddington.
Hannam recalled: “During the meeting, I was really impressed with Ivan. Handsome, confident, intelligent. He seemed very happy that I showed up. He gave me free stuff.
He said, “If you want to hang out again, post on Iron March,” a right-wing website.
Hannam imagined leaving Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London in August ahead of the three-week trial
Ivan just told me to do it. I thought he was really cool. I said ok.
‘He said,’ You name it [National Action co-founder] Alex Davies and mention some Nazi stuff ”and I thought it was just an introductory post.
‘I was desperate for his approval. I just felt he was a much cooler older man. ‘
Hannam went on to attend the group conference in Liverpool and attend boxing events even after the group became a banned terrorist organization. He was filmed spraying fascist graffiti just weeks before signing up with the Metropolitan Police in July 2017.
Even when his employers later learned the true nature of his beliefs, Hannam insisted that he only join the group to make new friends.
He said, ‘I stuck to social activities. Most of the time went to the pub and went for a walk.
‘Other times camping or boxing. Often it was just young men getting together to get some snacks and some food and go for a walk. He told jurors, “ I felt the overwhelming need to go out and interact with people because I felt so lonely.
“I had wasted so many years of my teenage life playing video games that I wanted to get out and do something.”
But a peek into his bedroom told a different story. There, the court was told that detectives had found posters of Nazi soldiers on the wall of his bedroom, allegedly bought by his mother.
He tried to pass them off as just ‘flashy posters’ that judges said,’ I like bold photos, propaganda styles, that’s why I had some fascist propaganda stuff, it’s something about the bold colors. It’s the same as my Star Wars poster and I have a Minecraft poster. ‘
A diary by Hannam in which he elaborated ‘possible group activities’ and his ‘life in recent years’
But on the bookshelves were notebooks strewn with sketches of right-wing material, including a flag with the phrase “NS131” – another far-right group affiliated with National Action.
Hannam had also downloaded Anders Breivik’s ‘manifesto’ on December 29, 2015. Police found selfies of Hannam in his police uniform with a mustache that resembled Adolf Hitler’s.
Hannam idolized the Nazi leader and told a potential National Action recruit that he was “the big man.” His phone also had numerous neo-Nazi photos that he downloaded and kept even after he became a police officer.
The devastating amount of material proving his allegiance served to convince the jury yesterday.
But it also left Scotland Yard faced with tough questions about how on earth he got through their police checks to become a police officer.