A Muslim convert has told how he rebuffed MI5 advances but played along with authorities trying to deradicalise him as he plotted a terror attack on Oxford Street.
Lewis Ludlow, 27, of Rochester, Kent, a former Royal Mail worker, said he was filled with “animosity and hatred” when he swore allegiance to Islamic State, the Old Bailey heard. All the while, he appeared to engage with the Prevent deradicalisation programme, having had 16 meetings and a phonecall with officers over the six months before his arrest last April.
One of the meetings was on the same day that Ludlow had carried out reconnaissance of targets around the capital, taking photographs of Oxford Street and Madame Tussauds.
Ludlow had planned to kill up to 100 people in a “ram attack” after being stopped by police at Heathrow airport in February 2018 as he attempted to board a flight to the Philippines.
The defendant, who called himself “the Eagle” and “the Ghost”, had bought a phone under a false name and wrote down his attack plans, which were later found ripped up in a bin in his home.
He pleaded guilty last year to plotting an attack in the UK and giving money to Isis in the Philippines and appeared at the Old Bailey on Thursday to be sentenced.
The prosecutor Mark Heywood QC set out Ludlow’s past association with extremists in Britain and abroad. He said the Prevent programme had attempted to engage with Ludlow since November 2008, when his college had raised concerns about his religious beliefs and his habit of carrying a knife.
Giving evidence, Ludlow, who has autism, said he dropped out of school at 14 because of bullying and converted to Islam at the age of 16. In 2010, Ludlow attended a demonstration led by the radical preacher Anjem Choudary and his banned group al-Muhajiroun. But his relationship with the extremist Islamic group soured after he was suspected of being a spy, he said.
In 2015, he talked to British jihadist Junaid Hussain about “sending something lethal” in the post while doing seasonal work in a Royal Mail warehouse.
But Ludlow told the court he only said it because he was in “awe” of Hussain, who was killed in a drone strike in Syria soon afterwards.
That year, he was arrested and Isis material was recovered from Ludlow’s phone but no further action was taken. In March 2017, Ludlow claimed MI5 had approached him to be a “spy” and “entrap” young people online as an “agent provocateur”.
But he said: “I didn’t want to be involved in that, ruining their lives. I felt it was wrong. They kept saying they wanted to meet me. They would not leave me alone.”
Ludlow had cut off contact with Prevent two years before, but resumed meetings with officers in November 2017, while concealing his true feelings. The defendant said he felt he was “picked on” for being a white Islamic convert and felt under pressure from his Prevent mentor.
In January 2018, he bought a ticket to fly to the Philippines on 3 February but was stopped at the airport and had his passport seized. In March, having set up a PayPal account and a Facebook site devoted to antique collection, he sent money to an alleged extremist called Abu Yaqeen in an area of the Philippines with a significant Isis presence.
Police went on to recover torn-up scraps of paper from Ludlow’s bin detailing potential attack sites in Britain.
On Oxford Street, he planned to use a van to mount the pavement, noting the lack of safety barriers.
He said: “Wolf should either use a ram attack or use … on the truck to maximise death … It is a busy street it is ideal for an attack. It is expected nearly 100 could be killed in the attack.”
Heywood said there was evidence the defendant wanted to recruit a second attacker as he did not have a driving licence and was “scared” of crashing.
In mitigation, Rebecca Trowler QC said Ludlow was directed by the extremist in the Philippines and his plans were “embryonic”.
The sentencing hearing before Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC is due to last up to three days.