A-star student became terrorist after ‘disappearing down internet rabbit hole’

An A-star grammar school student became a Satanist neo-Nazi after disappearing down “the rabbit hole of the internet”, a court has heard.

Harry Vaughan, 18, faces sentencing at the Old Bailey next week after pleading guilty last month to 14 terror offences and two counts of possessing child sex abuse images.

Prosecutor Dan Pawson-Pounds said the teenager was “considered a focused and able” student at Tiffin Grammar – a top boys’ school in Kingston-upon-Thames, south-west London – who achieved A-star grades in maths, further maths, physics and history in the summer.

But he was arrested at his family home on June 19 last year in a counter-terror probe into Fascist Forge – an online forum used by extreme right-wing militants.

Vaughan described himself in his profile as an “extremist” and said his ideology was “cult of the Supreme Being” as he shared “sophisticated” far-right propaganda posters he had made on his laptop, the court heard.

In a March 2018 application to join the System Resistance Network – an alias of the banned neo-Nazi group National Action – he said he was a 5ft 7in 16-year-old from south-west London.

He wrote: “I could handle myself in a fight. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to further the cause.”

Harry Vaughan court case
Harry Vaughan’s bedroom at his family home in Kingston, south-west London (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Police found 4,200 images and 302 files, including an extreme right-wing terrorist book and documents relating to Satanism, neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism, on Vaughan’s computer and other devices.

Files included graphics encouraging acts of terrorism in the name of the proscribed terror organisation Sonnenkrieg Division, a guide to killing people, and bomb-making manuals.

Mr Pawson-Pounds said Vaughan had also looked on Google maps for the locations of schools near his home and searched for explosives and plastic pipes.

He said: “The material demonstrated unequivocally that Vaughan had an entrenched extreme right-wing and racist mindset, as well as an interest in explosives, firearms and violence more generally.

“He also demonstrated an interest in the occult and Satanism.”

Vaughan pleaded guilty to one count of encouragement of terrorism, one count of disseminating a terrorist publication, 12 counts of possessing a document containing information of a kind likely to be of use to a person preparing or committing an act of terrorism, and two counts of making an indecent photograph of a child, at Westminster Youth Court on September 2.

He appeared in the dock at the Old Bailey on Friday wearing a blue face mask, beige chinos and a dark blue Fred Perry sweater over a polo shirt.

His parents, Jake and Rachel Vaughan, sat in front in the well of the court.

Vaughan’s barrister, Naeem Mian QC, said the material described in court was a “mere glimpse” of the teenager’s “extensive library of hate”.

Mr Mian said “articulate and intelligent” Vaughan, who had “distinguished himself” playing the cello, “had every advantage that could’ve been afforded to him”.

But he said his “loving, committed parents” had been left with a “sense of bewilderment” after his arrest, while specialists have since diagnosed their son with high-functioning autism.

Harry Vaughan court case
Harry Vaughan’s laptop and other devices contained 4,200 images and 302 files relating to extremism, Satanism, neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism (Metropolitan Police/PA)

“He is somebody who has disappeared down a rabbit hole, a rabbit hole of the internet, and he is in a very, very dark place, or certainly was. And he was there, it would appear, from the age of about 14,” said Mr Mian.

“He suggests or intimates he was groomed … The more appropriate word would be ‘exposed to’ over a protracted period of time, and that’s undoubtedly resulted in where is now and undoubtedly resulted in him going down different warrens in this rabbit hole that he’s disappeared down.”

Mr Mian added: “This is perhaps an ideal illustration of the dangers each and every parent has to deal with, potentially.

“We cannot be sure where they are going, what they are doing, in their bedrooms. That is the position the parents of this young man have found themselves in. They have questioned themselves. Are they to blame?”

The judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, said: “As a parent myself, I am naturally sympathetic to their plight.”

Adjourning sentencing until next Friday, he released Vaughan on conditional bail, but warned that he could face a jail sentence.

“You must understand that all sentencing options are open,” he told him.

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