A survivor of the 2017 Manchester Arena terror attack is suing a conspiracy theorist who claimed that the tragedy was staged.
Martin Hibbert, 46, took his daughter Eve, then 14, to the Ariana Grande concert in May 2017 - an outing which tragically resulted in him becoming paralysed from the waist down and Eve suffering a traumatic brain injury. But conspiracy theorist Richard D Hall has falsely claimed the attack was a hoax, and has taken it upon himself to physically track down survivors to determine whether or not they are faking their injuries and trauma.
The shocking revelation was made by the BBC after it conducted an investigation into Mr Hall, who admitted to spying on Eve from a vehicle parked outside her home and going to the workplace of another survivor Lisa Bridgett, who lost a finger in the bombing. He posed as a customer with the aim of secretly recording her to discover whether she’s lying about her injuries.
In a video shared with his followers online, Mr Hall demonstrated setting up a camera to film Eve to see whether or not she can walk. Eve was left profoundly disabled and in a wheelchair by the attack, which also killed 22 people and injured more than 100.
Mr Hibbert has confirmed he will be pursuing libel action against the conspiracy theorist, saying he was “crossing the line” by “making money off of people’s misery.” He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m friends with a lot of the deceased’s family and I’m friends and in contact with a lot of the survivors. A lot of those people are recluses in their own home, they’re too scared to even come out, to even come into Manchester, and that’s what kind of made me deal with it head-on.”
He described Mr Hall, who is based in Wales, as “a bully” who needs to be taught “a lesson”, and said he would not let his daughter be forced to put up with people like this.
Alex Duffy, who is also a survivor of the Manchester Arena bombing, said he would be “absolutely fuming if a conspiracy theorist dared to question [him] about that day.” He told NationalWorld: “Thinking back to what happened that day - fleeing the arena, seeing everyone around me so distressed and fearing for their lives - it upsets me that some people would accuse survivors of being liars.
“Some people lost their lives, many were physically injured, and we’re all living with the mental and emotional impact of that day. For individuals to harass victims and accuse them of being part of a “hoax” shows a lack of empathy, and my heart goes out to my fellow survivors.” He added that it “goes past free speech” and is simply “harassment”.
Mr Hibbert also spoke on the issue of free speech, which he said he is “all for”, but argued: “It’s not about kind of silencing people but when people cross a line, when they’re going out and you know, seeing people at their home, filming people when they don’t even know they’re being filmed, and they’re writing books, making money from people’s misery, that’s when it has to stop, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Mr Hall makes money from selling books and DVDs outlining his conspiracy theories, and by posting videos online and speaking at events. He has suggested in his content that those who were killed in the Manchester Arena attack are actually alive and living abroad - and has also covered in his videos the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, 9/11, a range of other UK terror attacks, and Covid-19, which he describes as a scam.
His YouTube account, which had 80,000 subscribers, was removed in the days following the BBC investigation. Also subsequent to the publication of the article, a comment was added to his website’s homepage: "In response to recent media coverage, if any person is upset by what they have seen, Richard D. Hall apologises for any upset caused. My actions were motivated by a strong desire to search for the truth about what happened.”
Research conducted by King’s College London recently highlighted the impact that conspiracy theories can have. In one of the university’s studies, one in seven of those surveyed believing that terrorist attacks, such as the 7/7 bombings, did not take place. It also found that a quarter of people believe that the “real truth” about the Manchester Arena attack is being withheld.
Neil Hudgell, the solicitor representing Mr Hibbert and other victims, said that the group would pursue damages and restraining injunctions against Mr Hall for alleged defamation and harassment. He told the BBC: "Martin [Hibbert]’s got to the point of enough is enough. This needs tackling and to be silenced in legitimate ways."
The news came just days before the findings from the second stage of the Manchester Arena Inquiry were published. In the report, the inquiry’s chairman Sir John Saunders was highly critical of the emergency services’ response on the night of the tragedy - citing “significant failings” by organisations in their preparations and trainings for such an attack, as well as the actions taken at the incident itself.
He revealed that bombing victim, John Atkinson, 28, would most likely have survived if it had not been for inadequacies in the emergency response. Sir John commented: “In the case of John Atkinson, his injuries were survivable. Had he received the care and treatment he should have, it is likely he would have survived. It is likely that inadequacies in the emergency response prevented his survival.”
He also confirmed that Mr Atkinson could have survived if an “intervention sufficient to slow substantially or stop bleeding” had been undertaken up to 45 minutes after the blast. Just after midnight, an hour after explosion, there were still 36 casualties waiting to go to hospital, with the last casualty departing at 2.50am on 23 May. Sir John said: “To those who experienced it, this period of time will have seemed interminable. It must not happen again.”