Three teenage friends were walking to a 16th birthday party at a football centre when tragedy struck.
Shortly after 8.30pm, a black Audi A5 was seen overtaking a slower vehicle on a single-carriageway road at high speed. It then came around a slight bend, mounted the dimly lit pavement, and ploughed straight into the young men.
Joshua McGuinness, 16, was catapulted over a fence and landed in a cemetery. Harry Rice, 17, a semi-professional footballer, was carried on the bonnet of the car until it crashed into a wall. And George Wilkinson, 16, an apprentice electrician, was knocked into the road. All three died instantly.
The driver, an Asian in his late 20s, ran from the scene — Shepiston Lane, in Hayes, West
Victims of Hayes crash when Audi ploughed into them waiting at a bus stop. Left to right: George Wilkinson, Harry Rice and Josh McGuinness
Two friends of the three victims, who witnessed the incident on a Friday night in January last year, set off in pursuit and apprehended the driver on the forecourt of a nearby garage, striking him with a bottle and dragging him back to the scene.
By the time police arrived, the driver was unconscious. Officers noticed ‘a very strong smell of alcohol on his breath’.
A month later, the driver, Jaynesh Chudasama, pleaded guilty to three counts of causing death by dangerous driving. The Old Bailey heard he’d been about two-and-a-half times over the drink-drive limit, had traces of cannabis in his blood and was travelling at 71mph in a 60mph zone.
He was later jailed for 13 years for the crime, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years, and disqualified from driving for 13 years. Last month, the jail term was cut by two-and-a-half years on appeal.
In court, the families of George, Harry and Joshua said they were ‘devastated’ and ‘heartbroken’ at the loss of their sons, in circumstances they described as ‘every parent’s worst nightmare’.
Chudasama, 29, a car-hire worker, expressed regret through his lawyer, saying he would be ‘racked by guilt and remorse’ for the rest of his life.
In ordinary circumstances, this sad tale would have passed slowly into history, like so many of the tragedies played out in our criminal courts.
Far Rightists including James Goddard (in yellow vest) who believe in the conspiracy theory were among the angry mob outside Parliament and hounding anti-Brexit MP Anna Soubry (centre)
But that has not been the case. Instead, in a series of events that reflects badly on the state of politics today, with an increasing climate of hate-mongering, the plight of the grieving boys’ families has been turned into a recruiting tool for some of Britain’s most noxious far Right and neo-Nazi groups.
Key to this story is a conspiracy theory. Namely that Harry, George and Joshua were not the victims of a reckless drink-driver (as the court found), but were deliberately murdered in an Islamist terror attack.
According to this theory, this was exacerbated by a cover-up by the Government and Metropolitan Police.
Harry Rice (pictured) and his two friends, Josh McGuinness and George Wilkinson, were killed as they walked to the party in Hayes, West London, on January 26
There is no evidence to support this extraordinary claim, save for the fact Jaynesh Chudasama, the driver, is of Asian heritage. In fact, he’s not a Muslim but a Hindu of Indian ethnicity.
Significantly, no terror group has claimed responsibility for being behind the accident.
Nor has anyone explained why an Islamic terrorist would mow down young pedestrians in a Middlesex suburb rather than, say, central London, a short drive away. Or why a follower of the Koran would have drunk heavily, given that alcohol is forbidden by the faith.
Gerard Batten The Leader Of UKIP (left) pictured with James Goddard (right) who has been filmed racially abusing policemen. They are with Tracy Blackwell — the mother of Josh McGuinness
Tracy Blackwell shouted out in court at Jaynesh Chudasama ‘you’re going to rot in hell mate’
Yet in darker corners of the internet, where everything from the Moon landings to the 9/11 attacks are routinely dismissed as fake, this theory has gained some credence, spawning a social media campaign called ‘#ourboysjustice’.
This week, far Rightists who believe in the theory were among the angry mob outside Parliament and hounding anti-Brexit MP Anna Soubry.
One of the campaign’s most prominent activists, James Goddard, shouted ‘Nazi’ and ‘traitor’ at the Tory.
He is the author of a vile and racist political manifesto endorsing a sinister range of neo-Nazi policies, including calls for a ban on halal meat, no ‘Muslim immigration’, no more mosques to be built, and no literature on Mohammed in public buildings.
Goddard also demands the families of all terror suspects should be deported to prevent Britain becoming a caliphate. He’s been filmed racially abusing policemen (shouting, for example, ‘you’re not even British’) and has used social media to accuse ‘P***s’ and other Muslims, without any proof, of ‘murder and rape’.
Another key figure in the rise of this virulent anti-Muslim campaign is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the far-Right rabble-rouser better known as Tommy Robinson, founder of the racist English Defence League.
He’s been assisted by the Democratic Football Lads’ Alliance, described by counter-extremism experts as the UK’s biggest far-Right street protest movement.
Perhaps most controversially, Ukip leader Gerard Batten (who last year appointed Robinson as a party adviser) met Goddard and #ourboysjustice backers at Right-wing protests and appeared on its Facebook page, posing with Goddard.
Earlier this week, Mr Batten denied knowing Goddard and said it was ‘malicious’ to suggest they had a connection.
Another key figure in the rise of this virulent anti-Muslim campaign is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the far-Right rabble-rouser better known as Tommy Robinson (pictured)
How odd, then, that the Mail has unearthed another picture of the Ukip leader and Goddard — published above — this time posing at the Red Lion pub in Westminster.
This picture was taken in October, four months after Mr Batten was first pictured alongside Goddard.
The pair are with Tracy Blackwell — the mother of Josh McGuinness — and the Ukip leader can be seen wearing a lapel badge and wristband supplied by those claiming the three Hayes teenagers were murdered by a terrorist.
Yet despite this, a Ukip spokesman last night reiterated that Mr Batten does not know Goddard or Blackwell.
George Wilkinson (left) and Harry Rice (right) were killed by a drink driver in Hayes last year
Meanwhile, Tommy Robinson and his far-Right cohorts have established a link with one of the Hayes teenagers’ mothers — exploiting her fears that not all was as it seemed when her son died.
This has been true to form, for it has been a leitmotif of Robinson’s bigotry to highlight and expose ‘Muslim crime’ in Britain, in particular Asian heritage sex-grooming gangs.
So this week’s offensive scenes outside Parliament were part of a complicated coming-together of hard Brexiteers, the far Right and a woman who believes her son was killed deliberately in a road accident.
Far-right leader Tommy Robinson with UK Independence Party (UKIP) and pro Brexit supporters during UKIP Brexit betrayal march in London, Britain, 09 December 2018
The fact is that the #ourboysjustice campaign to secure ‘justice’ for three teenagers has morphed into an all-purpose lobby group endorsing a host of often racially insensitive street campaigns.
To understand what led to this, it is important to explain the clever way the far Right has mobilised support via social media.
The #ourboysjustice campaign began in March, when Tracy Blackwell — feeling let down by the sentence length being restricted by the fact it was a driving offence — gave a speech at Speaker’s Corner in London declaring the killing of the three boys was ‘murder’.
A video uploaded to YouTube showed her describe it as a ‘deliberate attack on our sons, our country and our way of life’.
Quite how this conclusion had been reached is unclear — the #ourboysjustice campaign did not respond to my inquiry — but posts the group have made online suggest that, like all conspiracy theories, it revolves around a host of so-called ‘unanswered questions’.
Perhaps inevitably, most seem based on a premise that’s either misguided or utterly untrue.
For example, the group claims there was something suspicious in the fact that the Metropolitan Police announced ‘within 40 minutes’ of the boys’ deaths that the attack was ‘not terror-related’.
In fact, the police’s first statement about the incident was an appeal for witnesses, circulated 11 hours after the crash.
Conspiracy theorists also point to the fact the killer-driver was not driving his usual car, a Ford Focus, but his brother’s more powerful Audi. In fact, court documents showed he regularly drove the Audi and was insured to do so.
Court sketch showing Jaynesh Chudasama, 28, the drink-driving motorist who is in jail after causing the deaths of three teenage friends on their way to a 16th birthday party
In pursuit of evidence to support their claims, #ourboysjustice asked why police accident investigators found the driver to have been ‘in control of the car when he mounted the pavement’, claiming such a phrase suggested he deliberately drove at the teenagers.
In fact, court documents obtained by the Mail show something very different.
An eyewitness, a female friend of the boys called Evie Hanson, was said to have ‘described the driver as having lost control of the car, and [said] that the car had spun around in the middle of the road’.
Court papers added: ‘Tyre marks later found . . . showed the car spun around in a circle three times.’
Motorist Horace Miller, who was overtaken by Chudasama seconds before the crash, said he was driving ‘like a bat out of hell’.
And a police accident investigator, quoted in court documents, said the driver had clipped a kerb and then ‘failed to steer, for an unknown reason, for a shallow right-hand bend, mounting the footpath and colliding with the young males’.
The investigator’s report concluded: ‘While I cannot be certain about the reasons why he failed to steer for the bend, it is possible the level of alcohol and presence of drugs in his system may have exacerbated his poor . . . driving.’ In any case, the road where the deaths happened is a notorious accident blackspot, with eight other serious incidents there in recent years, one fatal.
Perhaps due to these and other pertinent facts, the #ourboysjustice group initially remained relatively small and obscure.
But then, two PR coups boosted their profile, to the extent its Facebook page has 28,000 followers.
The first came via Russia Today, the Kremlin-controlled news outlet. Last May, it published a report headlined ‘Police “suppressing” case of teens killed by drunk driver because of “nationality”.’
It was based on an interview with Ian Rice, father of victim Harry, filmed at a far-Right rally in London, the Day of Freedom Protest.
Second, in a report filmed by Tommy Robinson and posted to YouTube, he claimed: ‘The parents believe their boys are at the centre of a major cover-up.’
Robinson also claims police in Rotherham failed to properly investigate sex-grooming gangs for fear of upsetting minority communities, and speculated that a similar motive might be at play with regard to the deaths of the three Hayes teenagers. ‘I can’t be 100 per cent certain that this was a terrorist attack, but I don’t blame the families for coming to the conclusions they have,’ he said.
‘If this was a terrorist attack, and if this was a cover-up, we could be looking at so many more terrorist attacks than we ever could have imagined. And that is a worrying thought.’
With the endorsement of rabble-rouser Robinson, who has generated hundreds of thousands of pounds from supporters on both sides of the Atlantic and built up an impressive collection of luxury cars, watches and designer clothes in the process — came a swift financial boost to the #ourboysjustice group.
A JustGiving page to raise money for a ‘private prosecution’ of killer-driver Chudasama had raised £17,142 by late July, while a GoFundMe appeal raised £6,000.
Meanwhile, supporters have raised their profile by linking up with pro-Brexit marches and far-Right protests — bringing along collection buckets. And the Democratic Lads’ Football Alliance has auctioned signed football shirts in support of the cause.
By June, #ourboysjustice members began returning favours to these dubious backers by attending protests in support of Tommy Robinson, who had been jailed for contempt of court for breaking reporting restrictions in the trial of an Asian sex-grooming gang.
That month, the group’s leading figures were ejected from a meeting where they heckled London mayor Sadiq Khan.
Among them was Goddard, who made a speech, referring to the Hayes teenagers, saying: ‘The families of a victim of a terror attack are sat here. Your establishment covered it up.
Protesters outside the Old Bailey in London ahead of the sentencing of drunk driver Jaynesh Chudasama who killed Harry Rice, George Wilkinson and Josh McGuinness as they walked to a 16th birthday party
‘The Met Police, the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service], and you know about it. Trump’s welcome here, you’re not. Terrorism is not part and parcel of living in a big city. You’re a disgrace, Khan.’
The organisation’s social media sites soon veered rightwards in political tone, mixing criticism of ‘radical Islam’ and supporting Robinson with fake news stories suggesting (to quote one example) that the Government had instructed the SAS to use Chinook helicopters to shoot unarmed pro-Brexit protesters in Westminster.
Other recent online posts by the group have referred to alleged satanic paedophile rings in
Hampstead, while Goddard (who, despite having his four Facebook pages shut down this week, continues to post daily films with Tracy Blackwell on the site). Blackwell, for her part, has ranted about alleged ‘satanic paedophiles’ in Downing Street.
If you think this sounds unhinged, you’re not alone. But in the current febrile political environment, many vulnerable people take such paranoid nonsense seriously.
Little wonder that many believe the awful deaths of George Wilkinson, Joshua McGuinness and Harry Rice are being cynically leveraged for financial gain.
‘There are those trying to exploit this tragedy, and people’s grief, for profit and to promote sickening anti-Muslim views,’ is how lobby group Hope Not Hate puts it.
‘They form part of a growing movement of people for whom everything is a conspiracy, an Establishment cover-up, despite the clear and obvious facts denying their case.’
Indeed, it’s hard to disagree with its conclusion — that ‘the ultimate tragedy is how some parents’ loss is being so cynically exploited’.