An East Lancashire man is to appear in a BBC documentary tonight to discuss the online abuse he has received since surviving a terror attack.

Travis Frain, from Darwen, and Martin Hibbert, from Chorley will appear on BBC Panorama’s Disaster Deniers: Hunting the Trolls, which airs tonight (October 31).

An investigation by BBC Panorama and Radio 4 podcasts has uncovered that conspiracy theorists, who claim UK terror attacks have been staged, are tracking down survivors to their homes and workplaces to see if they are lying about their injuries.

The film follows the BBC’s disinformation and social media correspondent Marianna Spring as she speaks to survivors of UK terror attacks, as well as conspiracy theorists who have targeted them, to uncover how and why these conspiracy theories have gained traction.

Mr Frain was badly injured in the 2017 Westminster Bridge.

He was on a university trip to London aged 19 with his friends when Khalid Masood struck him in a car.

He flew into the air after hitting the bonnet of the vehicle, suffering a broken leg and numerous other injuries including a shrapnel wound and broken fingers.

He spoke to Panorama about his experience and said he was in hospital recovering from the ordeal when the online abuse started.

Lancashire Telegraph: Travis Frain (Photo: BBC/Tom Traies)Travis Frain (Photo: BBC/Tom Traies) (Image: BBC/Tom Traies)

One message, shared with Panorama by Travis, read: “You disgust me you treasonous ginger p****, how much have they paid you or what have they promised you to commit treason against your own country?

"We know the attack was staged and I hope they hang you.

“I was nearly killed through no fault of my own. [It’s horrible] to receive a message like that so soon after, when you are also in a vulnerable position.”

Frain says he felt “powerless” because people don’t realise how viciously and frequently terror attack survivors are trolled online.

Travis says social media sites and police should do more to address the posts made about him, and other terror attack victims, made by the conspiracy theorists.

He said: “If you asked someone to name five things a terror attack victim might need assistance with, online trolling wouldn’t even be in the top 30.

“We have a situation where that is taken advantage of. If you had that voice you could push back and ask for a matter to be pursued but you don’t have that, you’re powerless."

Frain has spoken in the past about the online trolling he has received, especially when he speaks publicly about the incident.

"Every time I do an interview like this it tends to get their backs up and a few of them come out of the woodwork and send those sort of messages," he said.

"YouTube was littered with all these sorts of debunking videos saying that I’d faked my involvement or my injuries… and we were all paid actors.

"You’ve received quite bad injuries, you’re immobile. Then to be receiving threatening messages like that is incredibly disconcerting. It’s a really bizarre situation.

"I’d just say to them ‘get in touch’ and I’d say ‘let’s have a conversation about it', rather than sitting behind anonymous accounts on the internet and sending dodgy messages to people who, quite frankly, don’t know how to respond to them.

"Sometimes it’s conspiracy theorists. A lot of the time they seem pretty nonsensical."

Mr Hibbert, who lives in Heath Charnock, is a victim of the 2017 Manchester Arena terror attack.

Lancashire Telegraph: Martin Hibbert (Photo: BBC/Tom Traies)Martin Hibbert (Photo: BBC/Tom Traies) (Image: BBC/Tom Traies)

Mr Hibbert was left paralysed from the waist down following the attack, and his daughter Eve, now 20, has been left severely disabled due to a brain injury.

Eve and her father were the closest people to the blast to survive the 2017 terror attack, in which 22 people and the bomber were killed.

Mr Hibbert said: “Even today I give myself a hard time and say I failed as a dad and I’ve not done my job.

“I always told Eve that whenever she is with me she is safe.”

He spoke to Panorama about how he and his family have been targeted by a conspiracy theorist called Richard D Hall.

The conspiracy theorist, based in Wales, has described how he physically tracks down survivors of the Manchester arena attack, in which 22 people were killed and more than 100 injured, to determine whether it was staged.

Hall suggests that those who were killed are alive and living abroad. He profits from selling books and DVDs outlining his theories that terror attacks were staged, as well as speaking at events and posting videos online. As recently as mid-October, he had more than 16 million views and 80,000 subscribers on YouTube.

In a video shared with his followers online, Hall demonstrates setting up a camera to film Eve to see whether she can in fact walk.  Hall later said online that Eve, who was 14 at the time of the attack, left the house in a wheelchair, but added, “there’s no evidence” that the injury was as a result of the attack.

Mr Hibbert is preparing to bring libel action against Hall.

He said: “Effectively he’s calling me a liar and that I wasn’t there.
“I'm all for freedom of speech, but it crosses the line when you’re saying I'm an actor or I've not got a spinal cord injury or Eve's not disabled, she’s not in a wheelchair.

“If you’re saying what you’re saying then you need to have concrete evidence.

“I will show him the videos that prove what we have been through and hopefully it will shut Hall up.”

The investigation reveals how conspiracy theories and tactics like those of Hall are emblematic of a wider phenomenon that survivors and bereaved families are experiencing.

Messages show how online abuse, citing conspiracies that Hall and others promote, have also been sent to the grieving relatives of those killed in the Manchester Arena bombing, as well as survivors of other UK terror attacks. There have been attempts by online trolls to identify where terror survivors live and work.

Professor Bobby Duffy from King’s College London's Policy Institute, who led the research into the popularity of conspiracy theories about UK terror attacks, told the BBC that “belief [in these conspiracy theories] is higher among those who rely on social media and messaging services for their information about news and events.”

He fears that those who believe these theories are more likely to target survivors with abuse. 

The research suggests that the pandemic has created a “gateway” for these conspiracies, with a third of people surveyed saying it has made them more suspicious of official explanations of terror attacks. Prof Duffy expects the current economic climate to exacerbate this tendency.

BBC Panorama, Disaster Deniers: Hunting the Trolls Monday 31 October 8pm BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

A 10-part Radio 4 podcast by the BBC’s Disinformation and social media correspondent, Marianna Spring, Disaster Trolls is available on BBC Sounds from Monday 31 October and broadcasts at 9.45am on Radio from Monday 31 October.