A jury has been unable to decide whether Jack Renshaw, a neo-Nazi who admitted a terrorist plot to kill an MP, remained a member of a banned terrorist group. At the end of his fourth and final trial of the past two years, the full story of those cases can now be told – Daniel De Simone/BBC News
They drank there regularly. Normally on a Saturday. Often during the week, too.
Numbers varied – from only a couple of drinkers to as many as 10.
This is the Friar Penketh in Warrington, a busy Wetherspoons in the town centre.
But the conversation of the drinking party was not that of ordinary lads out socialising – football or work – but focused on far darker subjects, such as their hatred of Jewish and non-white people, their veneration of Nazism and Adolf Hitler, and their fascination with terrorism.
On Saturday 1 July 2017, several members and former members of the banned neo-Nazi organisation National Action arrived in the late afternoon.
They were joined in the early evening by a youthful-looking man whose wide, hostile eyes are in contrast to his slender, timid frame.
Almost immediately, the then 22-year-old began complaining about an ongoing police investigation into him for stirring up racial hatred in speeches.
There was sympathy for Jack Renshaw among his fellow drinkers.
As the evening wore on, he revealed an imminent plan – that if he was charged by police, he would make a political statement by killing his local MP Rosie Cooper.
He had already bought a gladius machete – a Roman short sword – to carry out the murder.
Hostages would be taken, he elaborated, and he would lure a female detective who was investigating him to the scene by demanding to speak to her. He would then kill her as well.
After that, he would commit “suicide by cop” by advancing on armed police wearing a fake suicide vest, he told the group.
The attack would be an act of “white jihad” – a slogan used by National Action – and he planned to make a martyrdom-style video setting this out.
None of those around the table challenged Renshaw, and two of them even suggested alternative targets, namely the then home secretary and a synagogue.
What none of them knew was that one of their number was secretly passing information to the anti-racism charity Hope not Hate.
Robbie Mullen, once a committed neo-Nazi, had grown disillusioned and wanted out.
“I didn’t want to be involved in killing anyone, or a group I was involved with killing people. I just didn’t want anyone to get killed or hurt,” he says.
As Mullen left the pub that night, Renshaw gave him a hug and said they would probably not see one another again.
Alarmed by what was unfolding, Mullen immediately contacted Hope not Hate
“Jack is going to kill an MP soon,” he told them.
Jack Renshaw’s case starkly illustrates the dangers of radicalisation.
He was born in Lancashire and became involved in politics in his teens – first with the English Defence League and then the British National Party (BNP), after meeting its then leader Nick Griffin at an event.
When he finished school, he started a degree in economics and politics at Manchester Metropolitan University, but was asked to leave because of his far-right activism.
Renshaw spent years in the BNP, appearing on its posters, in videos, and as a speaker at conferences. He stood for Blackpool Council and worked at the European Parliament in Brussels.
He also involved himself in campaigning against the sexual grooming of children.
Once asked to describe his journey, Renshaw said: “I started off basically as a bit of a civic nationalist with, let’s say, slightly covert racist thoughts, and now I’m an outright racist national socialist.”
National Action would become his political home.
The youthful British group, which was founded in 2013, was openly racist and neo-Nazi.
The new parents and the neo-Nazi terror threat the story of National Action and the threat posed by its members.
It would be banned in December 2016 after an official assessment concluded it was unlawfully glorifying terrorism.
National Action had even used an official Twitter account to celebrate the murder of Jo Cox MP by a white supremacist.
Robbie Mullen, then a warehouse worker living in Runcorn, Cheshire, had joined the group after becoming absorbed by extremist politics.
He had researched other organisations, but was drawn in by the brash, confident National Action, whose members dressed in all-black at demonstrations and used social media to promote their activities.
Mullen, now 25, told the BBC he was first attracted by the “way they looked” and because “they were all around my age, whereas the usual far right were old men drinking in a pub.”
Mullen, like Renshaw who was a National Action spokesperson, became a prominent figure in the group, helping to organise activities in north west England.
Renshaw seemed to revel in the cruelty of his chosen ideology.
His social media pages became a vile stream of hatred and malicious conspiracy theories, with Jewish people a frequent target of abuse.
But it was two anti-Semitic speeches he made on behalf of National Action that would prove his undoing.
During a demonstration on Blackpool seafront in March 2016, Renshaw said Jewish people were “parasites” and that Britain had taken the wrong side in World War Two, instead of fighting with the Nazis who were implementing the “final solution”.
At a speech in Yorkshire a month earlier, he had said Adolf Hitler was “right in many senses”, but wrong when he “showed mercy to people who did not deserve mercy”.
Renshaw said that Jewish people should be “eradicated”.
He was arrested at his mother’s house in Blackpool in January 2017 and held on suspicion of stirring up racial hatred.
His mobile phones and other items were seized.
However, his speeches were not the only matters under investigation.
Renshaw the paedophile
Renshaw, who was openly homophobic, was secretly a paedophile who had been grooming boys for sex.
For nearly a year he had been using a fake Facebook profile to sexually groom two boys, who were aged between 13 and 15 at the time.
Despite not meeting the children, he offered them money for sex and requested intimate photographs. Police were alerted after a relative saw messages on one of the boy’s phones.
Detectives established the Facebook messages had been sent from the Blackpool address occupied by Jack Renshaw.
When first arrested in January, he had only been interviewed in relation to the speeches, before being released on bail while inquiries continued.
One of the investigating officers – Det Con Victoria Henderson – was tasked with keeping in touch with the suspect and she also became involved in the sexual offences inquiry.
In May that year, Renshaw was re-arrested and questioned about the grooming.
He must have realised his deception was at an end.
DC Henderson later said Renshaw had been “shocked and upset” and “gone visibly white and was very teary”.
He denied grooming the boys, despite evidence of the offending having been found on his own phones.
He told DC Henderson he was still a virgin, did not believe in sex outside marriage, and that his taste in pornography was “quite traditional” and “quite conservative”.
While admitting to having searched online for gay pornography “out of interest”, he denied being homosexual and said same-sex relationships were “unnatural”.
Within two days of being released on bail, Renshaw searched for DC Henderson on Facebook.
She had become a target.
Unknown to police, Renshaw had already begun planning an attack on his local MP Rosie Cooper, which would be a political killing. He now resolved to also murder DC Henderson, which would be an act of personal revenge.
Earlier that month he had researched the West Lancashire MP and Googled: “How long to die after jugular cut”.
On 7 June, he ordered a machete online – described by its manufacturer as offering “19 inches of unprecedented piercing and slashing power” – and paid for next-day delivery.
After receiving it, he shared an image of the weapon with associates using the encrypted Telegram messaging app.
But Renshaw’s plans were foiled because of Robbie Mullen.
By this time, Mullen was secretly communicating with Hope not Hate.
After establishing contact in spring 2017, Mullen said that National Action members had not disbanded, despite the group having been banned. He said they were continuing to meet, train together in a private gym, and communicate via encrypted messaging applications.
The public trappings of the group – demonstrations, the website, the name – had gone, but he claimed the core of the group remained.
When it was banned, Mullen later told the BBC, National Action’s longstanding fascination with terrorism became central to its purpose, and the group began planning for imminent racial warfare.
After Renshaw laid out his violent plans in the pub on 1 July 2017, Mullen spoke to Matthew Collins, his contact and Hope not Hate’s research director.
Collins, who was on holiday at the time, recalls the moment he was told that Renshaw “was going to kill an MP imminently, immediately”.
He remembers asking Mullen: “‘How immediately?’ and he said, ‘It’s going to happen soon’. And this horrific, unimaginable story unfolded.”
The next day Hope not Hate got a message to Rosie Cooper warning her of the danger.
She informed the police and suddenly found herself at the centre of a counter terrorism investigation – only a year after the murder of her colleague Jo Cox.
While this was happening, Renshaw was being interviewed in Lancashire – again by DC Henderson – about the grooming offences. He was then separately charged with stirring up racial hatred in the two speeches.
He was released on bail, and that night posted a series of messages on Facebook indicative of his mindset.
“I’m spending my time with family… It will all be over soon.”
In another, he wrote: “I’ll laugh last but it may not be for the longest.”
Counter terrorism detectives hurriedly tried to locate Renshaw, but he was not at his bail address.
While searching his uncle’s house, they discovered the machete that Renshaw had bought hidden in an airing cupboard.
He was eventually found and arrested on suspicion of making threats to kill.
The next day, he appeared before a court for the stirring up racial hatred offences and the prosecution successfully opposed bail.
Renshaw was off the streets.
Robbie Mullen, on the other hand, continued associating with the same people.
None of them knew he was the source of intelligence about the proposed attack.
There were concerns that Mullen, himself, could face prosecution for membership of National Action.
Immunity had to be granted, and the police had to assess whether his evidence could be used in a prosecution.
In autumn 2017, six people who had been drinking in the Friar Penketh on the night Renshaw revealed his plot were arrested and eventually charged.
Two of them, including the group leader Christopher Lythgoe, were convicted of membership of National Action. One man was acquitted of the same charge. Two juries were unable to decide whether the other men – Renshaw included – had stayed in the group after it was banned.
Mullen, having refused witness protection, was issued with a “threat to life” notice by the authorities.
Hope not Hate rushed him away late at night and took him to a safe place – he has been unable to return to his home or job since then.
Renshaw eventually faced four trials over the past 14 months.
In January 2018, at Preston Crown Court, he was convicted of two counts of stirring up racial hatred in speeches and later sentenced to three years in prison
In June, at the same court, he was convicted of four counts of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and jailed for an additional 18 months.
The case can only be reported now his final trial has concluded.
In the dock in Preston he appeared sheepish as videos of police interviews with his two young victims, conducted by DC Henderson, were shown to the court.
One boy described how Renshaw – using a fake Facebook profile under an assumed name – called him a “hottie” and “jailbait”.
“He was getting too weird, saying he wanted to do weird sexual things to me,” the victim said.
“Deffo getting cuddled you,” Renshaw had informed him.
Renshaw asked the child for explicit photos and tried to entice him into sex by offering money, drugs and pizza: “One night. 10 grand. Me and you.”
“I was scared for my life,” the child told DC Henderson.
The second boy said Renshaw bombarded him with messages daily.
Around Christmas time, he sent the child an image of some presents and said he could have them in exchange for intimate pictures.
Renshaw even sent the boy graphic photos of himself.
When the child called Renshaw a “dirty paedophile” he replied by saying “that turned him on”, the victim recalled.
Renshaw, in the witness box, said his only explanation for how evidence of his sexual interest in children – including very explicit search terms – came to be on four separate mobile phones to which only he had access, that were seized by police over a period of several months, was “real time synchronised access” by Hope not Hate.
Hacking, to put it another way.
Hacking so complex it was beyond the capabilities of advanced states.
The fake Facebook profile had been accessed during bursts of online activity that Renshaw admitted were his own, including sometimes within seconds of social media accounts in his own name being used.
No expert evidence was advanced to support the defence thesis and the prosecution technical experts – who agreed it was impossible for any hacking to have taken place – were not asked by Renshaw’s barrister about the theory, because the defendant only put it forward so late in the legal process.
The prosecution described his story as a “complete fantasy.”
When asked if he had any qualifications in expert phone analysis, Renshaw admitted he did not but insisted: “I used to be a technician for Dixons retail.”
During his third trial – at the Old Bailey in summer 2018 – Renshaw was more forthcoming, appearing unashamed at his murderous plans and hatred of others.
On the first morning of the trial, Renshaw suddenly pleaded guilty to preparing to murder Rosie Cooper and making a threat to kill DC Henderson.
But he denied membership of National Action and so remained a defendant.
When called to give evidence, he said Rosie Cooper was chosen as his target because “she happened to be my local MP” and was the “most logistical representative of the state”.
“It was me wanting to send the state a message. If you beat a dog long enough it bites,” he told the court.
He said the plan was to “turn up at one of her social events” and then “hack” at her jugular with the machete.
Renshaw, a Holocaust denier who told the court he wanted all Jewish people to be killed, stated his neo-Nazi beliefs loftily but defensively, claiming to be impervious to the horrors such ideas have generated while at the same time calling for more.
His haughtiness was at odds with his true position: a convicted paedophile and terrorist facing many years in prison.
Jurors were unable to decide whether he had remained a member of National Action, nor could the jurors in a retrial.
Mullen, who appeared as a witness in both London cases, must now start a new life, but he is unsure of its shape.
“I don’t know at the minute,” he says. “I live month-to-month – I don’t think into the future too much.”
But he knows things will never be the same.
Mullen nods quietly when asked if he understands that he probably saved lives, including that of an MP.
He is still unsure precisely what first triggered his decision to start secretly passing information to Hope not Hate, for which he now works.
“I’ve been asked this twice in court. I don’t really know,” he says.
But he says the violent plans and intentions he was told about meant he had to act.
“I knew that if I could do something to stop it then I had to.”