Credit: PA News

Rookie Ben Hannam’s conviction for belonging to a banned neo-Nazi terror group is a “unique” case, according to Scotland Yard’s counter terrorism chief.

Commander Richard Smith moved to reassure the public after it emerged that Hannam joined the Metropolitan Police after lying about his association with banned neo-Nazi organisation National Action.

Hannam had been working as a probationary officer for nearly two years when a list of users of the extreme right-wing forum Iron March was leaked online.

Once his email was linked to the forum, investigators uncovered his association with National Action up to the same month he applied to join the police in July 2017.

Mr Smith, who is head of the Met’s counter terrorism command, said: “We were investigating individuals linked to the Iron March forum, which carries extreme right-wing material.

“We were shocked to find one of the individuals we were seeking to identify turned out to be a serving probationary police officer.

“Ben Hannam obviously lied on his application form to join the Met.

“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.

“Once we identified his involvement with that organisation, we took immediate steps to arrest him and put him before the court.”

He said there was no evidence that Hannam was part of a “deliberate” attempt by the extreme right to infiltrate the force.

A review of his work has not revealed any sign that he tried to draw others into his extreme ideology.

Mr Smith said: “We found no evidence that he used his position as a police officer to further his extremist views.”

During his time in the force, Hannam had no direct access to the Police National Computer, although he could have asked others to do checks on cases he was dealing with.

The Met’s vetting process for new recruits is “proportionate”, Mr Smith said.

“The processes we have to vet potential members of the police service are proportionate, that’s not to say they cannot be absolutely exhaustive.”

He declined to “speculate” on whether a face-to-face interview, rather than a vetting form, would have exposed Hannam’s views.

The officer said a reference from the university Hannam attended in the autumn of 2017 did not raise any issues.

Mr Smith added: “To the best of my knowledge this is a unique case.

“I’m not aware of any other police officer ever facing prosecution for membership of a terrorist group.

“I would reassure the public by pointing out how swiftly we acted, as soon as he was identified, to arrest and prosecute him.

“Ben Hannam had been in the Metropolitan Police less than two years when we got this information and we acted immediately.

“People join the Met Police Service with the intent of keeping people safe from harm.

“The views Ben Hannam expressed online and was interested in online are totally incompatible with being a police officer.”

The court had heard that Hannam, who has autism, was radicalised online and joined National Action’s London branch before it was banned.

On the threat posed to vulnerable people, Mr Smith said: “Radicalisation can take place through many routes. We have a clear concern about extremist material available online and we act robustly when we find it.

“I would urge anyone with concerns about somebody vulnerable to radicalisation who may be accessing this abhorrent material online to report the matter to the police there is specialist help available.”

The College of Policing’s Vetting Authorised Professional Practice (APP), which is national guidance and sets the standards for police forces in England and Wales on vetting, is being updated but not as a result of any specific case.

The national application form previously contained a question specifically about BNP membership, according to a spokesman for the College of Policing.

It was updated in December last year and now asks candidates whether they are or have been a member of a proscribed terrorist organisation or group.

This includes organisations which are “politically, religiously, racially or environmentally disruptive”.

Credit: PA News