Tenant tried to link landlord's partner to Westminster Bridge attack in housing dispute

12 May 2021, 19:37 | Updated: 12 May 2021, 20:51

Banyard did not attend a court hearing after being convicted of perverting the course of justice
Banyard did not attend a court hearing after being convicted of perverting the course of justice. Picture: Met Police

By Will Taylor

Police are hunting a man who tried to frame his landlord's partner as a terrorist involved in the Westminster Bridge attack because of a housing dispute.

Gerald Banyard, of Whalley, Lancashire, sent two handwritten notes to police days after the 2017 assault, falsely claiming another person had been involved.

That person, who was wholly innocent, was questioned by counter-terror detectives because of the fake allegations, and it was later established Banyard, 67, was behind the notes.

He was found guilty of two counts of perverting the court of justice at Southwark Crown Court on Tuesday but failed to attend.

A warrant has now been issued for his arrest by a judge.

Commander Richard Smith, 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.

Read more: No city deals with terrorist incidents as effectively as London: Defence expert

Another note sent to police
A note sent to police. Picture: Met Police

"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."

The Westminster Bridge attack, in March 2017, saw Khalid Masood drive a car into pedestrians before crashing into railings outside the Palace of Westminster, where he then killed unarmed officer Keith Palmer.

Eight days later, Banyard sent a package to Brighton police station. It said it was sent from an American tourist called Kevin who found a suspicious note in his hotel room, addressed to "Khalid" and signed off with a name and phone number.

A second letter was sent in April 2017, from Leeds, which again claimed a man from Eastbourne had been communicating with Masood.

The accused man was questioned by detectives and it was confirmed he was completely innocent. He suggested Banyard as a possible suspect because he was in a tenant-landlord dispute with the man's partner, and a handwriting expert confirmed Banyard had written the notes to police.

Call police on 101 quoting MPS Operation Tates with information on Banyard's whereabouts.