The real Richard D Hall
Posted: Mon Oct 31, 2022 6:12 pm
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-63412651The UK terror survivors tracked down by ‘disaster trolls’
By Marianna Spring
BBC Disinformation and Social Media correspondent
Conspiracy theorists, who claim UK terror attacks have been staged, are tracking down survivors to their homes and workplaces to see if they are lying about their injuries, a BBC investigation has found.
Martin Hibbert, who was paralysed from the waist down when he and his daughter Eve were caught in the 2017 Manchester Arena blast, told the BBC he is now preparing to bring libel action against a conspiracy theorist based in Wales.
Richard D Hall has described how he physically tracks down survivors of the attack - in which 22 people were killed and more than 100 injured - to determine whether it was faked. He says he spied on Eve from a vehicle parked outside her home.
In a video shared with his followers online, Mr Hall demonstrates setting up a camera to film Eve, now profoundly disabled and in a wheelchair, to see whether she can in fact walk.
"I'm all for freedom of speech," Martin Hibbert told me. "But it crosses the line when you're saying I'm an actor or I've not got a spinal cord injury or Eve's not disabled, she's not in a wheelchair.
"You don't know how far he's going to go to get answers."
Mr Hall suggests that those who were killed in the attack are really alive and living abroad. He also promotes theories that several other UK terror attacks were staged. A former engineer and website designer, he makes money from selling books and DVDs outlining his theories, as well as speaking at events and posting videos online. As recently as mid-October, he had more than 16 million views and 80,000 subscribers on YouTube.
When I confronted Mr Hall at a market stall he runs, he insisted I'm wrong about how he operates.
For the past five months I've been looking into conspiracy theorists who target UK terror survivors, for BBC Panorama and a Radio 4 podcast. My investigations and new research, along with the testimony of those affected, show that conspiracy theories and tactics like those deployed by Mr Hall are emblematic of a wider phenomenon that survivors and bereaved families are experiencing.
A victim of the 2017 Westminster Bridge terror attack, who has been harassed by online conspiracy trolls, told the BBC that surviving a terror attack now seems to inevitably lead to being abused.
These types of conspiracy theories, and the abuse they inspire, echo those of Alex Jones, the US host of the conspiracist show and website Infowars, who this month was ordered to pay nearly $1bn (£861,805,000) to families of the US Sandy Hook school shooting after falsely claiming the 2012 attack was a hoax.
Online abuse describing terror attacks as hoaxes, and those who were injured as so-called "crisis actors", appear to be on the rise since the pandemic, according to survivors who have spoken to the BBC.
Most of the abuse has been perpetrated online, but people I have spoken to say they fear for their safety because the abuse has also begun to affect their lives offline.
Nearly one in five people in the UK think terror survivors are not telling the truth about what happened to them, new research for the BBC suggests. A third say the pandemic has made them more suspicious of official explanations of UK terror attacks.
The survey of more than 4,000 people, weighted to be representative of the UK population and carried out earlier this month by King's College London, also suggests that 14% believe the 2017 Manchester Arena attack probably involved "crisis actors" who pretended to be injured.
Research from BBC Monitoring found that dozens of videos promoting false claims about the Manchester attack - accumulating more than 300,000 views - were still on YouTube five years after the incident. After the BBC flagged this to YouTube, the company removed Mr Hall's channel and one other that had promoted his content.
"Targeting the victims and families of these atrocious attacks is abhorrent," said a spokesperson for the company. "YouTube's hate speech policy outlines clear guidelines prohibiting content that denies, trivialises or minimises violent historical events, and we will remove flagged videos that violate these guidelines."
Martin Hibbert's lawyer, Neil Hudgell, who is preparing a libel case against Mr Hall, told the BBC: "Martin's got to the point of enough is enough. This needs tackling and to be silenced in legitimate ways."
Mr Hall's claims and tactics also include:
Entering the workplace of Manchester Arena survivor Lisa Bridgett, posing as a customer, with the aim of secretly recording her to discover whether she's lying about her injuries
Visiting the homes of other Manchester survivors to try to question them about whether the attack was a hoax
Publicising the names and locations of dozens of Manchester survivors and bereaved relatives of victims in a video - appealing to his followers to send him any information they have about them
Martin Hibbert first became aware of Mr Hall's tactics when police alerted the family to allegations that he had put a camera outside the home of his daughter Eve. Mr Hall had shared a video of himself preparing a small camera strapped to a stake which he said he would use to check whether Eve really was hurt in the Manchester Arena bombing.
"I've sharpened the spike on the end so I can just stick that into the ground in order to surveil our subjects," he told his viewers, holding up a camera attached to a stick with fake foliage wrapped around it.
Eve, who is now 20, was left severely disabled after the bombing. She experienced a serious brain injury and has lost the use of her left arm and leg.
Mr Hall later said online that Eve left the house in a wheelchair, but added, "There's no evidence" that the injury was as a result of the attack.
He also documented his attempt to prove that Lisa Bridgett, who lost a finger in the bombing, was not injured either, by taking a hidden camera to the boatyard where she works.
Lisa Bridgett lost a finger in the Manchester attack
Ms Bridgett told me: "It makes you feel very security conscious, because you just don't know who's out there and who might be lurking in a garden or standing round a corner with a hidden camera on."
Messages seen by the BBC show how online abuse, citing conspiracies that Mr Hall and others promote, have also been sent to the grieving relatives of those killed in the Manchester Arena bombing, as well as survivors of other UK terror attacks. There have been attempts by trolls online to identify where terror survivors live and work.
Mr Hall requests donations on his website and promotes an online shop where he sells branded merchandise. He also has a market stall where he sells his book and DVD about the Manchester Arena attack, along with other books and DVDs promoting conspiracy theories.
I visited the market stall to ask him questions after multiple attempts to get answers to survivors' questions.
He told me he didn't want to talk to me about the "evidence" he says he has to back up his claims, and that he doesn't trust the BBC. I asked how he feels to be profiting from the worst day of these survivors' lives.
"If you read my book, all the answers are in there," he said. When I told him there is no evidence in his book, he told me I'm wrong.
He refused to address questions about whether he really believes UK terror attacks were staged and if he understands the harm his conspiracy theories and tactics cause to the survivors of these attacks.
After my visit, I wrote to Mr Hall again but he didn't respond. Since then he has added a series of disclaimers on his website saying that he does not "advocate that viewers of this website make contact with alleged terror attack victims, either online or in person".
He has also posted a new video, in which he says he did not put a camera outside the home of Eve Hibbert, but admitted to leaving "a camera rolling" in his van which was "parked in a public place".
He says he has made "polite door to door inquiries in order to gather evidence, which is a perfectly legitimate activity when doing research", and that his appeal for information from the public does not make him "responsible for hateful messages sent by people".
But he held firm to his "opinion [that] there has been no satisfactory evidence presented to the public, which proves that the Manchester arena incident was not staged".
Subsequent to the publication of this article, Mr Hall removed several videos from his website. A comment added to his homepage said: "In response to recent media coverage, if any person is upset by what they have seen, Richard D Hall apologises for any upset caused."