Secret mole inside the National Front who helped jail racists

Secret mole inside the National Front who helped jail scores of racists: Matthew became a far-Right thug as a teenager… Now his extraordinary story is being told in a prime time ITV drama

  • Matthew Collins saw thugs in the late 1980s brutally beating dozens of women
  • He has brought down scores of far-Right and neo-Nazi figures over the years 
  • He is now always looking over his shoulder and regularly receives death threats 

As a teenage recruit to the National Front, Matthew Collins was accustomed to senseless violence.

Yet he was stunned by the scenes he witnessed one afternoon in the late 1980s: dozens of his peers, armed with hammers, viciously attacking a group of women protesting at a local library in Welling, South London, over the British National Party’s (BNP) decision to open a bookshop in the area.

‘Of all the violence I’d seen, it was the most sickening,’ says Collins. ‘Helpless people being laid into. I looked around at these people who were my nearest and dearest friends — and realised they were also the most deranged people I had ever met.’

Collins was just 17 at the time, but that moment proved to be the start of an extraordinary journey that led to the now 50-year-old becoming first an informant on the far-Right — and later a handler running a network of moles who would, in time, help to bring down the BNP.

In the process, he has helped to imprison scores of leading far-Right figures, while information from one of his spies helped to dismantle a neo-Nazi terror group, one of whose alleged members had been plotting to kill a Labour MP.

All this has come at a huge price: Collins has received hundreds of death threats and has spent much of his life looking over his shoulder.

‘I have been doing this for a long time, so I’ve made new enemies as well as keeping my old ones,’ he explains.

Now Collins’s remarkable journey from Mein Kampf-reading racist to committed anti-fascist campaigner has been brought to life on the small screen.

Last night saw the premiere of ITV’s new drama The Walk-In — based on Collins’s book of the same name — in which he is played by actor Stephen Graham.

‘It’s an honour, but it’s important that people realise these things really happen,’ Collins says. ‘It’s an important story but it’s also my life they’re showing.’

The Walk-In centres on the 2017 plot to kill Labour MP Rosie Cooper. After the murder of fellow Labour MP Jo Cox the previous year, Collins learned from an informer that members of banned group National Action were planning a machete attack on Cooper.

Her would-be attacker, Jack Renshaw, was later jailed for life.

Collins was shown encrypted messages that National Action members had written about him. Among them were death threats. ‘They were obsessed by me. Messages talking about murdering me, raping my mum,’ he recalls.

The youngest of four boys, Collins was raised on a council estate in Lewisham, South-East London, by a single mother after his father left home when he was just five.

‘We were skint, but there was always laughter,’ he says.

Yet as a teenager, Collins was seduced by the racism that then held pockets of working-class neighbourhoods in its grip.

‘There was no racial hatred in our home, but I formed those opinions,’ he says. ‘I don’t know why, but I did.

‘I went looking for the far-Right. And if you grew up in South London back then, it wasn’t hard to find it.’

By 1987, at the age of 15, Collins had joined the National Front. ‘My family said it was the daftest thing I’d done — and they were right.’ Seen through the prism of his later experience, he can nonetheless feel compassion for this disenfranchised group of young men.

‘You join a gang of desperately sad, misplaced men who have an idea of a Britain that never existed, and who were united by the idea that if they could turn the clock back, things in their mundane lives would be better,’ he says.

Membership often consisted of little more than the sort of activity that characterises any neighbourhood campaigning group, from leafleting to endless meetings.

‘The main difference,’ says Collins, ‘is that it was punctuated by extreme violence — largely against anyone seen to be holding different views.’

That included women making a peaceful protest, as one group did on that summer evening in 1989.

‘Foolishly, I thought we were going to exercise our right to free speech,’ Collins says of his decision to attend the library. ‘But, instead, they decided to beat those people up. It was just hatred.’

Feeling sickened was one thing: but doing something about it was quite another. ‘It was difficult to leave — they were the only friends I had by then,’ says Collins.

‘I worked for them; it was a huge part of my life. I wanted out, I needed out — but I just didn’t know how to do it.’

Acting on instinct, he phoned the then leading anti-fascist publication Searchlight.

‘It was less of a leap than it seems,’ he explains. ‘Everyone knew about the rival groups; we were obsessed with them. I made one phone call, not knowing it would change my life for ever.’

A double life then ensued — one part National Front member, one part disrupter: a world of covert meetings handing over smuggled membership lists, documents and reports on planned activities, all the while breaking bread with the people whose groups he was undermining from within.

‘It was not the easiest thing to do,’ he says. ‘However disgusted I’d become, these people were still my friends.’

Yet the compensations were clear enough: a number of attacks were thwarted thanks to his intelligence. ‘I know I did tangible work,’ he says. ‘I was able to pass on information about the attackers in cases where people had been viciously assaulted and I was able to warn of other attacks and stop them,’ he says. These included a planned attack on a Jewish cemetery in Portsmouth.

Like all informants, the fear of discovery was ever present: more than once, Collins found himself asked how information was leaking out — who the rat was and where they were hiding. ‘Groups like that thrive on paranoia,’ he says.

Collins ‘got away with it’ until 1993, when the TV documentary series World In Action broadcast a ground-breaking documentary, to which he’d contributed, about the neo-Nazi terrorist organisation Combat 18.

‘It came out and about two minutes later I got a call from someone saying: “We think it’s you”.’

Under pressure from counter-terrorism police, Collins went on the run, booking a flight to Melbourne. ‘I tried to fit in as a backpacker,’ he says. ‘I did some fruit picking, met a girl, got married, got divorced. I had ten years desperately waiting to come home.’

The opportunity came in 2003, when he was asked to take part in a BBC documentary that told the story of his undercover work.

Emboldened, he flew home and started working full-time for Searchlight — now called Hope Not Hate — recruiting youngsters like the boy he had once been, embedded deep in the warped ideology of the far-Right.

It is delicate work in which Collins has a unique edge. ‘I’ve been that person,’ he says.

Recruitment is a haphazard affair. ‘Some moles come to you because they’re mercenary and want to sell a one-off piece of information,’ he says.

‘Some work with us for a few months and then they’re gone. But there’s also one mole that I’ve had for 12 years.’

Collins, his second wife and three children have moved house three times amid what he calls ‘tangible threats’ to their lives. He has also suffered from post- traumatic stress disorder.

Nonetheless, he does his best to keep his work and home life separate. ‘We don’t discuss my work at home, or with friends,’ he says. ‘A lot of them will be a bit shocked when they watch the programme.’

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