16 Apr 2019

Revealed: How Leave.EU faked migrant footage

An investigation by Channel 4 News also reveals how Arron Banks’ pro-Brexit group appears to have staged photos of migrants attacking women in London

The pro-Brexit campaign group, Leave.EU, faked a viral video and appear to have staged photos of “migrants”, shortly before the EU referendum.

An investigation by Channel 4 News found that images purporting to show “migrants” attacking young women in London seem to have been staged.

The group – backed by businessman Arron Banks – was also behind a fake video, claiming to show how easy it is for migrants to sneak into Britain. In reality, satellite data shows the men on board had not left UK waters.

The photographs and video both involved a former SAS soldier, Jonathan Pollen, who works for Banks’ corporate intelligence agency.

Although the photos were never used, the fake video went viral, garnering hundreds of thousands of views on Facebook.

Responding to the investigation Arron Banks accused Channel 4 News journalists of creating “fake news” themselves.

But Labour MP Jo Stevens, who sits on the Culture, Media and Sports Committee described the video and images to Channel 4 News as “fake news”.

“The video of the boat is very obviously fake and put together in a fake way. The photographs are a little bit more difficult to spot that, but clearly fake news with a deliberate intention of stoking hatred and anti-immigrant feeling and rhetoric.”

She added: “We have local government elections, we have potentially European Parliament elections, we might have a General Election, and we might have a second referendum – and we still have no regulation around digital campaigning and the sort of disinformation and fake news, which will play a part in all of those elections, unless some regulation is put in place.”

‘Migrant’ images

Just days before the EU referendum in 2016, Leave.EU published an “undercover investigation” on Facebook, purporting to show how easy it is to smuggle migrants across the Channel.

But satellite data, seen by Channel 4 News, shows the footage was filmed in reverse. The shots of “migrants” entering the UK were actually filmed before the boat had even left British waters.

Just days earlier, Leave.EU was also behind a series of seemingly-staged photographs that show a woman being violently attacked by a man wearing a hooded jacket. Another photo appeared to show a woman being grabbed from behind as she walks into a shop.

One of the attackers seen in the photos is wearing a distinctive grey denim jacket, with black leather sleeves and a white hood. A strikingly similar outfit is worn by one of the “migrants” seen in the Channel crossing video.

Leaked emails, seen by Channel 4 News, show the pictures were emailed by Mr Pollen to Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s head of communications and Arron Banks’ right hand man.

Mr Wigmore then forwarded them on to Leave.EU press team, saying: “Migrants beating up girl in Tottenham [on] Saturday… Can we get this ready to go as a press release.”

In a statement, Arron Banks told Channel 4 News: “Leave.eu is the biggest viral political campaign in the UK, with 3.7 million engagements last week on Facebook alone. Dwarfing political parties and other groups.”

“Channel 4 is packed with ex-Guardian journalists and left wing activists, who create Fake news for a living!

“The campaign must be doing something right to annoy all the right people consistently.”

Phil Campion, who fronted the Channel crossing video, firmly denied that he personally was involved in faking anything.

“I am not deceiving anybody. I didn’t cut the video. I didn’t cut the footage. I gave them the footage they asked me for, okay? I brought people back from France.”

Jonathan Pollen did not respond to our request to comment.

Channel 4 News Investigations Team.