Soldiers go on trial accused of neo-Nazi group membership

A British Army trainer accused of being a member of a banned racist neo-Nazi group allegedly kept a terrorism manual written by white nationalist Anders Breivik, a court heard.

Serving soldier Lance Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen is accused of membership of National Action, along with Private Mark Barrett and a 23-year-old man who cannot be named.

All three were described at the start of their trial by prosecutors as "active members" of the "virulently racist" right-wing group, before and after its ban in December 2016.

Opening the case at Birmingham Crown Court on Monday, Duncan Atkinson QC, said: "These defendants are not being prosecuted for their racist of neo-Nazi beliefs, however repulsive they may be.

"But for their participation in an organisation that sought actively through fear, intimidation and the threat of violence rather than through free speech and democracy to shape society in accordance with those beliefs."

In the days before the group's ban under terrorism legislation, prosecutors alleged one of the men received an email stating the group was simply "shedding one skin for another" and would continue under a new name.

It continued: "All genuinely revolutionary movements in the past have needed to exist partly underground.

"These are exciting times."

The men are on trial at Birmingham Crown Court (Rui Vieira/PA)
The men are on trial at Birmingham Crown Court (Rui Vieira/PA)

Outlining what the wider organisation stood for, the prosecution barrister said National Action "engaged in a campaign of virulently racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic propaganda, through which it sought to stir up a violent race war against ethnic minorities and others it perceived as 'race traitors'."

Mr Atkinson said: "Hostile to democracy and the British state, National Action actively sought to recruit and radicalise young people through the violent imagery and hate-filled language of its social media messages, its provocative street demonstrations and intimidation of local communities."

Jurors were told the group was banned in the UK following a number of actions including their "support for the murder of the MP for Batley, Jo Cox".

The men all came to the attention of West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit and Ministry of Defence following an investigation into the organisation.

Vehvilainen, 33, and Barrett, 24, were "both serving members of the British Army" in the Royal Anglian Regiment, the court heard.

Barrett, based at Kendrew Army Barracks, Rutland, but arrested at Dhekalia Barracks, Cyprus, was allegedly recruited by his older colleague and had an "active affiliation" with the group, said Mr Atkinson.

Raids were carried out on their barracks' homes, and material including mobile phones and hard drives were seized.

A document written by Anders Breivik, under an alias, at Vehvilainen's home at the Army's Welsh HQ in Sennybridge Camp, Powys (PA)
A document written by Anders Breivik, under an alias, at Vehvilainen's home at the Army's Welsh HQ in Sennybridge Camp, Powys (PA)

When Vehvilainen's home at the Army's Welsh HQ in Sennybridge Camp, Powys, Wales, was searched, officers found a document on a phone written by Breivik, under an alias.

The manual entitled "A European Declaration of Independence", "contained both ideology and methodology of his own attacks" and items on "funding, recruitment, training and armoury for acts of terrorism".

Vehvilainen's phone contained evidence of 900 visits to a website, where he made two posts which Mr Atkinson alleged were "derogatory of, and insulting to, black persons, dehumanising them and inciting hatred against them".

Married Vehvilainen has denied two charges of stirring up racial hatred, and one count of possession of a terrorism manual.

The other male is facing three counts of possession of a terrorism manual - including a copy of Breivik's pamphlet - and one count of distributing material likely to be useful to terrorists.

He is alleged to have had a "mega folder" on his laptop which was alleged to contain "step-by-step instructions" for killing people, and the "manufacture of a host of explosives, detonators and bombs".

The prosecution alleged among documents in his possession was a "White Resistance Manual for fun", which had entries on "arson, sabotage and selective assassinations".

Mr Atkinson said: "All information, therefore, of the kind likely to be useful to a white extremist committing or preparing an act of terrorism."

He is also accused of distributing a terrorist publication, called "Ethnic Cleansing Operations", via Skype.

Describing its contents, Mr Atkinson said: "This document is a detailed account of how to achieve 'the eradication of the predatory black race' from the United States.

"It's addressing both the white extremist rationale for doing so and techniques that can be employed for actual 'ethnic cleansing'.

The opening continues on Tuesday.