A police hunt is under way for a man who “looked to exploit an extremely tragic and serious situation” by framing an innocent person for the Westminster terror attack.
Gerald Banyard, 67, of Whalley, Lancashire, sent two handwritten notes to police in the days after the Westminster Bridge attack by Khalid Masood in March 2017, claiming that his landlord’s partner had been involved in the atrocity, in which five people were killed including PC Keith Palmer.
This sparked an investigation by counter-terrorism police who understand that Banyard made the fraudulent claims in order to settle “a private dispute with his landlord”.
Banyard was found guilty at Southwark crown court on Tuesday of two counts of perverting the course of justice, but failed to attend the verdict hearing. The judge issued a warrant for his arrest and the Met has issued an appeal for information regarding his whereabouts.
Commander Richard Smith, the head of the Metropolitan police counter-terrorism command, said: “In the immediate aftermath of the Westminster attack, our main priority was to establish whether the attacker might have plotted with others, and whether there was any outstanding threat.
“This involved scores of officers working around the clock and pursuing various lines of inquiry in order to keep the public safe.
“Banyard looked to exploit an extremely tragic and serious situation to try and settle what was a private dispute with his landlord.
“His actions meant that counter-terrorism resources were diverted to investigate what turned out to be a completely fabricated story which implicated an innocent man. His actions were disgraceful and completely reckless.”
Eight days after the attack, Banyard sent a package to Brighton police station that claimed to be from an American tourist called Kevin who had found a suspicious note in his hotel room.
That note was addressed to “Khalid” and signed off with a name and phone number.
A second letter was sent to Scotland Yard on 1 April 2017 from Leeds and again claimed that a man from Eastbourne had been communicating with Masood, giving his phone number.
Counter-terrorism detectives questioned the accused man and confirmed he was completely innocent. He identified Banyard as a possible suspect because he was involved in a tenant-landlord dispute with the man’s partner.
Banyard denied he had written the notes but a handwriting expert later determined it was highly likely that Banyard was the author.
He was charged with perverting the course of justice and first appeared at Westminster magistrates court in May 2019.