Unmasked: wealthy backers behind far-right league
The Sunday Times by Dipesh Gadher and Robin Henry | Sunday, 11 December 2011 | Click here for original article
A property tycoon and a City-based financier quizzed by police over his links to the gunman who slaughtered 69 people in Norway are exposed today as key figures behind the rise of the far-right English Defence League (EDL).
A Sunday Times investigation has revealed that Ann Marchini, a mother from Highgate, north London, and Alan Ayling, a former director of an investment fund, have sought to mould the thuggish anti-Muslim group into a credible political force.
They are both linked to the murky world of the online "counter-jihad" movement from which Anders Behring Breivik drew ideological inspiration before committing his massacre in Norway in July. They have remained in the shadows until now by using aliases on the internet to mask their true identities.
Breivik repeatedly mentioned the EDL in his 1,600-page "manifesto" and once belonged to an Oslo-based offshoot called the Norwegian Defence League.
The EDL, whose support has mushroomed since it was formed in Luton in 2009, has organised a string of protests against what it perceives as the growing "Islamisation" of Britain.
Many have descended into violence perpetrated by a hard core of football hooligans.
However, the "brains" behind the group — which plans to field candidates at the next council elections — come from a different background.
Marchini, who is thought to be in her fifties, runs a buy-to-let property empire from her £1.6m mock-Tudor home in Highgate, a leafy suburb usually associated with liberals.
Marchini, who is believed to be divorced from an Italian banker, operates under at least two aliases: "Gaia", the Earth goddess from Greek mythology, and "Dominique Devaux".
She is said to have helped organise a "pivotal" meeting between EDL figures and anti-jihad thinkers in July 2009 and recently attended a discussion where the EDL agreed to consider an electoral pact with the right-wing British Freedom party (BFP).
A report by Gaia on the BFP website states that Stephen Lennon, the EDL leader, "explained that the EDL need to move up a notch — they cannot go on forever staging street demos. They are still widely perceived as a rabble, and as such cannot possibly obtain funding or be taken seriously by the political class".
Marchini was photographed alongside Lennon, 28, at a far-right demonstration this year and the image was posted on the website of Hope Not Hate, an anti-fascist group. Her name and address also appeared on a leaked list of EDL donors.
The 2009 EDL meeting took place at the £500,000 flat of Ayling in the Barbican in central London. Lennon attended with two relatives from Luton.
Paul Ray, who claims to be a founder of the EDL, was also there. He says he travelled to the venue from Highgate with Marchini, whom he knew at the time as "Ann", "Gaia" or "Dominique". He says he had previously stayed for "a few months" at one of her rental flats on British Street in Bow, east London.
Ray regards the Barbican meeting as "pivotal". "It was the key people being brought together," he said. "It was bringing together the ideological and political side with the boots on the ground."
Two days after the meeting, Ray received an email from "Dominique Devaux", using the account "email@example.com". "Still very interested in helping EDF [sic] grow as a movement," it stated. It was signed off by "Ann".
Another email, seen by The Sunday Times, gives a mobile number used by Marchini for letting her properties.
Ayling, 57, has been operating under the alias "Alan Lake". He is an IT expert and was a director of Pacific Capital Investment Management until January this year. The fund was dissolved in August.
Last month Ayling was interviewed by officers from Scotland Yard at the behest of Norwegian police who were investigating whether he was a possible "mentor" of Breivik.
Paal-Fredrik Kraby, an Oslo police prosecutor, confirmed that "the man known as Alan Lake" had been questioned. "But his real name is not for us to give to the press," he said.
In an interview with a Norwegian newspaper nine days ago, Lake denied having any contact with Breivik. However, he admitted to having met a prolific anti-Islam blogger called "Fjordman". "People ought to read him, he is good," Lake said. Breivik named Fjordman 111 times in his manifesto.
In the same interview, Lake said Breivik was "wrong", but added the following about Norway's immigration policies: "You let in dangerous people who do not share your values, who will destroy your society and take your freedom. You will have to pay the price for that."
When shown a photograph of Lake last week, two separate sources at the Barbican confirmed that the man in the picture was Ayling. A man inside his flat denied he was Ayling when contacted over the intercom and refused to step outside. Ayling did not respond to a written list of questions.
Norwegian police say Lake was interviewed in London as a "witness". They have also spoken at length to Ray, 35, who voluntarily flew to Oslo to try to clear his name after speculation that he could have unwittingly inspired Breivik.
The Norwegian gunman, 32, who has been declared insane by psychiatrists, claimed in his manifesto that he once had an English mentor called "Richard (the Lionhearted)". Ray, a born-again Christian who subsequently fell out with the EDL, runs a blog called Lionheart.
When The Sunday Times first approached Marchini about her EDL links on November 30, she slammed the door shut on a reporter. Last week, she and her son, Paolo, hung up at least three times when contacted by telephone.
On Friday, a lawyer for Marchini said: "Ann Marchini does not operate under the alias of either Dominique Devaux or Gaia. She is a member of British Freedom, but joined only to show support for her personal friend Paul Weston [the chairman]."
Two names on Dominique Devaux's list of Facebook friends — Paolo and Bianca Marchini — disappeared on the same day.
Weston, a former UK Independence party candidate, said he could not recall befriending Devaux on Facebook. He described Breivik as "a psychopathic lunatic".
Lennon admitted knowing Marchini under the Devaux alias, but denied she was influential. He said Lake was a "nutjob" and had not been involved with the EDL "for ages". Lennon, a former member of the British National party, denied the EDL was racist and said Breivik was "a monster".