Darren Osborne: How Finsbury Park terror attacker became 'obsessed' with Muslims in less than a month

Murder trial heard how spiral of radicalisation transformed 'normal' father-of-four into 'ticking time-bomb' who ploughed van into worshippers outside mosque

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
@lizziedearden
Friday 02 February 2018 00:27
CCTV footage shows moment van swerves towards people on Seven Sisters Road, Finsbury Park

Barmen at The Pick and Shovel pub remember Darren Osborne as a “normal” man, if a bit of a loner.

Adam Roach, general manager of the Pontypridd establishment, said the father-of-four would quietly drink alone and showed no sign of aggression or strong political views.

“He wasn’t a person who looked like he was going to kill someone,” he recalled. “When I found out about the attack in London I couldn’t believe it was Darren. I felt absolutely shocked.”

But the man he remembered was not the same man who ploughed a van into Muslim worshippers in Finsbury Park, raving that he wanted to “kill more Muslims” as his victims lay scattered on the ground.

The Osborne seen in The Pick and Shovel had not yet watched a drama on the Rochdale grooming scandal that triggered a spiral of radicalisation his family was powerless to stop.

Woolwich Crown Court heard how the unemployed father-of-four, who had not worked for a decade, became “obsessed” with Muslims and started gorging on far-right material.

Police said the 48-year-old became radicalised in just three to four weeks, as evidence from devices he used show him reading posts by the former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, far-right group Britain First and other extremists.

Like many terrorists, Osborne had a “dysfunctional“ background and history of violence, having served two years in prison for assault and suffered from depression, alcohol and drug abuse.

Osborne’s partner, Sarah Andrews, painted a picture of a restless, troubled and unpredictable man who she described as a “functioning alcoholic”.

He had been prescribed medication for anxiety and depression and referred to rehabilitation services, but appeared to be worsening.

Bar staff in The Pick and Shovel said Osborne had seemed 'normal' 

In the weeks leading up to the attack, Osborne threatened to kill himself twice, an urge his partner believed was borne out of a feeling that he “was worthless and did not fit in”.

The turning point would come in May, when the couple watched the BBC drama Three Girls, which chronicled sexual exploitation in Rochdale.

Ms Andrews was angry, but her partner was transformed into a man “obsessed” with Muslims, grooming gangs and terrorism.

In relationship spanning two decades, she had never witnessed Osborne raise the issues or be openly racist, but he suddenly started accusing all Muslims of “raping children and being capable of blowing people up”.

Ms Andrews said her partner became a “ticking time-bomb” as he was “brainwashed” by material including posts by Mr Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon.

“Darren has been watching a lot of Tommy Robinson stuff on the internet,” she said. “I have pleaded with Darren to stop watching this sort of thing, but he just wouldn’t stop.”

Records of internet activity from 3 June – a fortnight before the attack – show Osborne initially perusing a range of sources including Jayda Fransen.

Police bodycam video shows Darren Osborne in the moments after the Finsbury Park attack

He received an automated Twitter message from the deputy Britain First leader just hours before the Isis-inspired London Bridge attack and spent the subsequent hours reading her tweets and articles.

The following day he continued conducting searches for Ms Fransen and Paul Golding, while reading tweets from anonymous posters calling on people to “fight” and claiming that “balloons and teddy bears [won’t] stop Muslims killing us and our children”.

Shortly afterwards, Osborne searched Mr Robinson’s name for the first time – one of dozens leading up to his attack.

The van Osborne used in the Finsbury Park terror attack

While dotting around articles on themes including the Manchester bombing, Westminster attack, Lee Rigby, Rochdale, Sadiq Khan, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour and alleged Muslim “celebrations” of terror attacks, he started to focus on Mr Robinson.

Osborne had signed up to emails from the activist’s website, with the first one arriving on 9 June urging him to join a protest against the Manchester attack.

“Dear Darren,” it began, before claiming that Salman Abedi’s bombing “is not the beginning and it won’t be the end”.

“There is a nation within a nation forming just beneath the surface of the UK It is a nation built on hatred, on violence, and on Islam,” it added.

“The government and politicians refuse to take the necessary steps to keep us safe.

It has now been left to us, the ordinary people of the United Kingdom to stand up to hate, to unite and in one voice say ‘no more’.”

On 14 June, Osborne searched for information on Mr Robinson and hit on his posts and articles seven times, before receiving another email urging him to join a campaign for a woman who was allegedly raped by Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Again beginning with the phrase “dear Darren” and signed off by Mr Robinson, it detailed a conspiracy theory against police and called on him to help “get justice”.

By 16 June, Osborne had formulated his deadly plan, phoning a local company to enquire about hiring a Luton van with a tail lift.

Metropolitan police release 999 call after Finsbury Park attack

He spent that Friday night on the sofa before setting out early on Saturday to collect the vehicle and paying for two days.

Staff did not ask what he wanted it for, seeing nothing unusual in the transaction with the ”polite and well-mannered“ man.

After picking up the van, Osborne started an intense bout of online activity, repeatedly searching Mr Robinson’s name and viewing his tweets alongside derogatory articles on Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn for more than two hours.

“When a Muslim bombed our kids we were told not to look back in anger?” read one post by Mr Robinson.

The words, referring to the Oasis song played frequently after the Manchester attack, were repeated by Osborne in the note he carried during the attack

Another tweet by Mr Robinson read: “Where was the day of rage after the terrorist attacks. All I saw was lighting candles.”

Osborne had arranged to have dinner with his partner but she arrived home to find he had drunk half a bottle of vodka and told him to leave.

When he arrived at The Hollybush pub on the summer evening, Mr Osborne immediately asked for a pen to write a “letter to Parliament”, which he admitted was the note found in the van.

Drinkers and bar staff recalled him ranting that he was “going to kill Muslims” and claiming they would be “getting together and marching for Isis” the following day.

Osborne was referring to the pro-Palestinian Al-Quds Day march in London, which he originally intended to hit before being thwarted by road closures and forced to hunt for a new target.

He was thrown out of the pub after arguing with regulars including a serving member of the British Army, who told how Osborne claimed he was a “soldier” while calling Muslims terrorists.

The sentiments, spelled out in his letter, were repeated after the attack as he raged at survivors and recorded by police in expletive-filled rants.

Despite inventing a last-minute cover story claiming that a “guy called Dave” was actually driving the van, Osborne showed no remorse in court.

Given the chance to renounce his views, he reinforced them and told the jury how he had wanted to kill Mr Corbyn at the Al-Quds march, adding that Mr Khan’s death would have been “like winning the lottery”.

”A lot of people are putting their fingers in their ears,” Osborne said. “Something needs to be done, this can't carry on.”