A former British soldier has been found guilty of preparing to commit a terrorist attack.
William Howitt, of West Bridgford, Nottingham, wrote a comprehensive and detailed plan to commit an arson attack at an independent bookstore in Nottingham city centre.
The 27-year-old’s phone was seized when he was stopped by Counter-Terrorism officers at East Midlands Airport on 5 January 2023.
On it, officers from Counter Terrorism Policing East Midlands (CTPEM) found ‘Plan A’, a plan that detailed an attack on the bookshop in Nottingham.
Also on the device were a number of anti-Semitic, anti-Marxist and pro-Nazi messages, pictures and videos, which Howitt has started sending to friends from 2020.
‘Plan A’ was written on a note on his iPhone, and was created during the evening of 7 September 2020.
Howitt claimed he was drunk and under the influence of drugs when this was written, and that the messages he sent were to create a persona and for bravado, and not a true representation of his views.
It took a jury just two-and-a-half hours to find him guilty, following a three-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court.
Howitt was originally arrested on Tuesday 14 March 2023, and charged with preparing an act of terrorism (under Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006).
The bookstore was identified as a target by Howitt, as a reflection of his strongly opposing views – namely left-of-centre political and social issues, such as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.
The plan remained on his phone.
Using his former military knowledge and training, it set out steps Howitt would take in order to set fire to the location, and then escape, avoiding detection.
In the hours around the writing of the plan, Howitt went online and purchased the tools outlined he would need.
A glass hammer and tarpaulin sheet were found at his address when officers from CTPEM searched the property.
From Counter Terrorism Policing East Midlands, Detective Inspector Chris Brett said:
“Howitt is a dangerous individual, who had written a comprehensive attack plan.
“This attack would have been terrorist in nature, as it would have served to intimidate those who hold different views to William Howitt. In doing so, he would have been seeking to advance an opposing ideology or political cause.
“In text conversations with his friends and acquaintances, Howitt viewed media and expressed and endorsed views commonly associated with the extreme right wing, in particular pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic, and anti-communist sentiments.
“Howitt believed that his beliefs were not only acceptable, but even cool, and something that if he acted on, would make him seem like even more of the ‘tough guy’ who so desperately wanted to be regarded as.
“This is never the case. His plan showed a clear intention to make a targeted attack on a business, and thus people, he deemed held differing views to himself. Lives could have been lost for the sake of intolerance.
“In Counter Terrorism Policing we work hard to root out those who hold such damaging ideologies and pose risk of committing potentially deadly actions and will bring them before the courts.”
A spokesperson from the bookshop said:
“William Howitt planned to damage our bookshop but succeeded only in damaging his own life.
“Had his plans come to fruition, a fire at the bookshop could easily have spread to the businesses surrounding us, putting the livelihoods of hundreds of workers at risk, as well as risking the lives of firefighters.
“Fortunately, his plans were thwarted by Counter Terrorism Policing, and we thank them for that. We will now continue bookselling as normal.”
Howitt will be sentenced on Thursday 14 December 2023, at Birmingham Crown Court.
Head of CTPEM, Superintendent Steve Riley, said:
“This was a long and complex operation, with officers and staff working long hours and at times under pressure to secure this conviction.
“This was a real collective effort from the entire East Midlands Region, all working with the same goal: To keep the people of Nottingham safe.
“At CTPEM we are committed to doing just that across the region.
“If you think someone you know is developing radical views, please report it to us. Arrest isn’t always the first option, we can engage with individuals to prevent these extreme views from developing.
“You won’t be wasting your time, but what you tell us may prevent an attack from ever happening.”
If you are concerned about someone you know and their online activity, you can report through the ACT counter terror website in confidence: Report possible terrorist or extremist activity – Action Counters Terrorism.