A “fully-fledged neo-Nazi” has been jailed for eight years for leading a banned far-right group which pursued a “truly evil and dystopian vision” of race war.
A judge said Christopher Lythgoe’s “deep seated racism and antisemitism” kept National Action alive after it was proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the Home Office in 2016, over its support for the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox.
The 32-year-old Lythgoe was sentenced at the Old Bailey on Wednesday along with Matthew Hankinson, 24, who was jailed for six years for being a prominent member of the white supremacist group.
Lythgoe, of Warrington, was arrested last year by police investigating a plot to murder Labour MP Rosie Cooper and a female police officer.
The plan was foiled by whistleblower Robbie Mullen, who leaked details of a meeting at the Cheshire town’s Friar Penketh pub to campaign group Hope Not Hate in July last year.
The plot emerged just over 12 months after MP Ms Cox was shot and stabbed to death in her Batley and Spen constituency by neo-Nazi Thomas Mair.
Jack Renshaw, 23, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, has pleaded guilty to preparing to engage in an act of terrorism in relation to the plot to kill Ms Cooper.
He has also been convicted of stirring up racial hatred in speeches in 2016, it can now be reported.
Lythgoe was also charged with encouraging the murder of Ms Cooper by telling Renshaw not to “f**k it up” during the meeting, on 1 July.
He “smiled and nodded” when Renshaw revealed his plans to kill the MP for West Lancashire, a jury heard during his trial.
Mr Mullen, a former National Action member, told the Old Bailey: “[Lythgoe] asked Jack if he was sure, and [Renshaw] said he was and had thought it through. Then [Lythgoe] said to him ‘make sure you don’t f*** it up’.”
A jury deliberated for 20 hours before clearing Lythgoe of encouraging Renshaw but finding him guilty of membership of National Action.
Hankinson, of Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, was also convicted of belonging to National Action.
The jury acquitted Garron Helm, 24, of Seaforth, Merseyside, of the same charge.
Mr Justice Jay said National Action had a “truly evil and dystopian vision” of waging a race war.
While numbers were too small to achieve this aim, there was a real risk the group’s disturbing ideology could have inspired acts of terror, the judge said.
Without Lythgoe’s obsessive determination, the group would have “withered and died on the vine”, he added.
“You are a fully-fledged neo-Nazi, complete with deep seated racism and antisemitism,” the judge told Lythgoe, adding that he “did nothing to stop or discourage” the plot to kill Ms Cooper.
The judge said Hankinson was a prominent National Action member who hated ethnic minorities and Jews and advocated violence.
Ms Cooper sat in court as the men were jailed.
In a statement, the MP said: “I think it’s awful that any public servant – teacher, nurse, doctor, police, MP – should be targeted and threatened with violence simply because of the job they do.
“To that end, I’d like to thank Robbie Mullen, whose information saved my life.
“I’d also like to thank Lancashire and Merseyside Police and the counter terrorism police, who have supported me greatly, and who have kept me, my staff and the general public safe.”
National Action was the first extreme right wing group to be proscribed by the government since the Second World War.
At its height it had a membership of up to 100 young white men, drawn from universities. Dressed in black skull masks, they would gather for flash demonstrations, waving banners and making Nazi salutes.
In December 2016, the group was banned by then home secretary Amber Rudd over its support for the murder of Ms Cox, whose death the court heard Lythgoe regarded as a “little victory”.
After National Action was proscribed, Lythgoe told members they would “just shed one skin for another”.
They continued to meet in pubs and train together at a new mixed martial arts gym in Warrington.
Meanwhile, disillusioned Mr Mullen, 25, began leaking information about National Action to campaign group Hope Not Hate.
Renshaw was also accused of being a member of National Action, along with Lythgoe, Hankinson, Andrew Clarke, Michal Trubini and Mr Helm.
The jury failed to reach verdicts on whether Renshaw, Mr Clarke, 33, and Mr Trubini, 35, from Warrington, were part of the group.
All six defendants had denied being members.
Lythgoe’s lawyer, Crispin Aylett QC, suggested Mr Mullen had implicated National Action because he was “in the pocket of Hope Not Hate”, and it was what they wanted to hear.
But in his sentencing remarks, Mr Justice Jay said National Action meetings continued on a “modest” scale under Lythgoe’s leadership.
He said they kept alive “an aspiration which was truly insidious and evil – the idea that this country should be purged of its ethnic minorities and its Jews, that the rule of law should be subverted, and that once the ideological revolution had taken place, this national socialist worldview would triumph.”
“The idea that there could be such a triumph without violence is arrant nonsense, despite the weasel words to the contrary,” he added.
The judge said: “Fortunately... the truly evil and dystopian vision I am describing could never have been achieved through the activities of National Action, a very small group operating at the very periphery of far-right wing extremism.
“The real risk to society inheres instead in the carrying out of isolated acts of terror inspired by the perverted ideology I have been describing.”
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