He built bombs and published racist, far-right views online. Why wasn’t Matthew Glynn charged with terrorism offences?
Matthew Glynn, 37, the Horfield man who built an arsenal of deadly bombs in his Bristol house pled guilty last week to five charges of making explosives in his home.
A search of his social media reveals a radicalised man, posting white supremacist, far-right, Islamophobic, and racist politics online. Now with reporting restrictions lifted, we ask why terrorism was dismissed as a motive, and at the very least, so early on.
The tip off and the bomb squad
23 July 2018: It was a hot summer’s evening in Horfield, Bristol. Following a tip off, police raid the house of Matthew Glynn on Filton Avenue. The army’s bomb squad soon arrive and local residents are evacuated from the typically quiet Bristol suburb. Over the next few days controlled explosions are carried out and further ‘suspicious items’ are found in the attic of the carpenter’s house, and local residents are kept at bay.
A shocking array of homemade explosives are discovered at Glynn’s property: a tennis ball filled with explosives, a hand-held device covered in ball bearings and a cylindrical bomb. The tennis ball device was reportedly designed to act like a hand grenade.
Early on in the investigation, Glynn was arrested on suspicion of the possession of an explosive article with intent to endanger life and injure property. Yet on 25 July, only two days after the police raid, Avon and Somerset police announce that the force was not treating the case as terrorism related, stating that it had “discounted any kind of individual or organisational terrorist motive”.
During the subsequent investigation and pre-trial period, the police confirmed that terrorism offences had not been added to Glynn’s charge sheet. A trial date was set for January 2019.
Then only last week, Glynn pleaded guilty last week to five charges of making an explosive device, possession of a regulated substance and possession of a prohibited weapon.
A seemingly wise move by Glynn, given that he was caught red-handed, and any trial would have involved a cross examination of his character and online activity, undoubtedly raising some challenging questions. The five charges carry a maximum term of life in prison, and sentencing is expected on 14 December.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) makes charging decisions on the basis of the evidence handed to them by the police. CPS guidance states that to prosecute as terrorism, prosecutors must be satisfied that a device was constructed for the ‘purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological course’.
A CPS spokesperson told the Cable that in this case, “there was insufficient evidence to charge any terrorism offences.” Some in the local community are now questioning this decision, given Glynn’s shocking social media activity.
Becoming a radicalised racist
A trawl through Glynn’s Facebook account back to when he started posting in 2012, reveals a glimpse into the life of an apparently socially isolated man. Glynn posts messages such as: “any girls out there that whoud like to go out 4 a drink some time??”. His posts are seemingly met with silence, others suggest heartbreak.
Over the following years, his Facebook account is sporadically peppered with posts. It is unclear whether at points he stopped using Facebook, made posts private, or later deleted material.
But from 2015 until his last public post in 2017, Glynn’s Facebook activity took a sinister turn. In bursts of activity, he repeatedly shared Islamophobic, white nationalist and anti-migrant Facebook posts.
A search of Facebook pages liked by him similarly reveals that he had a keen interest in Islamophobic, conspiratorial, far-right, pro-gun and militarist issues and online communities. Some pages liked belong to entirely unrelated local businesses and companies.
One page liked by Glynn is that of the ‘Oath Keepers’. This American far-right organisation is associated with the patriot and militia movements. The Anti-Defamation League which monitors anti-semitism in the U.S., describes the group as “heavily armed extremists with a conspiratorial and anti-government mindset looking for potential showdowns with the government.” Meanwhile, U.S. civil rights group, the Southern Poverty Law Center, lists the group’s founder as a known extremist and describes his announced plans to create localized militia units as “frightening”.
Glynn liked a whole number of anti-Muslim Facebook pages including ‘World Against Islamism’ and ‘Stop Islamification Wake up World’. These groups propagate Islamophobic tropes and a far-right clash of ‘civilisations’ world view, where Western states are threatened by migration and Islam. It seems as though Glynn had a keen interest in conspiracy theories, liking pages such as ‘Illuminati Exposed’, and ‘Killuminati Soldiers’, which describes itself as an ‘education website’.
In one post, Glynn shared a 2015 an image of conservative MP Enoch Powell, captioned “Enoch John Powell Prophet and hero of the people…Enoch was right!” Powell was infamous for his incendiary ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech which attacked immigration to the UK, and became a revered figure among many in the British far-right for his racist politics.
Glynn shared many articles and videos by the fascist group Britain First, now banned by Facebook. From articles about migrants coming to Europe and the UK to propagandizing posts about Britain First being ‘the only group that has taken the fight to Islamic extremists…”
He shared an article by Knights Templar International, a far-right organisation spreading disinformation with reported links to Britain First, who claim to be defenders of Christianity against ‘Muslim Invaders’. The website has repeatedly published inflammatory, and manipulative stories stoking racism and fake news stories about Muslims.
Over the course of many posts, he published virulently anti-Muslim and anti-migrant media, suggesting a twisted world view dominated by isolation, fear and militant racism.
Speaking on the link between online radicalisation and terror attacks, a spokesperson for anti-racist advocacy group, Hope not Hate, told the Cable: “While the far-right has been largely defeated at the ballot box, acts of far-right violence are on the up, sparked by an online radicalisation process involving non-violent but very unpleasant far-right figures stoking things.
“The Finsbury Park attack and far-right terror attacks in the United States show how dangerous online radicalisation can be,” they added.
Taking the far-right threat seriously
In late October, it was announced that MI5 will take the lead over the police in combating extreme right-wing terrorism amid mounting fears that white supremacists are becoming a more serious threat in the UK. The switch means that far-right extremism is now officially designated as posing a major threat to national security.
In 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by far-right terrorist Thomas Mair, who was subsequently jailed for life. Another far-right terrorist, Darren Osborne, was given a life sentence for driving a van into a crowd of people outside a mosque in Finsbury Park in London last year, killing one and injuring a dozen more.
Four far-right plots are known to have been thwarted since March 2017, including one by an alleged member of National Action to murder the Labour MP Rosie Cooper. Mark Rowley, the former national lead for counter-terrorism policing, has cautioned that the threat posed by far-right groups should not be underestimated.
Without the full raft of evidence which would have been available at full trial, it is difficult to determine how the CPS reached its charging decision in this case. Many in Bristol will be asking just this.
The spokesperson for Hope not Hate, said: “It is good news that this individual has been caught before he could carry out an attack using these homemade explosive devices. It is also the case that too often far-right figures who plan or carry out terrorist acts are not charged under terrorist legislation.”