A British Army Afghan battle veteran was at the heart of a neo-Nazi extremist group which set its sights on recruiting from within the armed forces.
White supremacist and self-confessed racist Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen believed in a coming “race war” and wanted to help establish an all-white stronghold in a Welsh village.
The Royal Anglian Regiment soldier was, it can now be reported, convicted after a trial in March of being a member of neo-Nazi extremist group National Action, and was jailed for eight years.
Vehvilainen had a “long and deep-seated adherence” to racist ideology, the judge who sentenced him said.
Prosecutors said at the 34-year-old's trial that he was working within the Army as a “recruiter” for the banned organisation.
Following the ending of a reporting restriction, it can now be revealed he was connected to three other soldiers, one of whom was thrown out of the Army.
The two others are understood to have been disciplined, though one has since left.
Before his conviction, Vehvilainen was considered an “outstanding” soldier who had risked his life for Queen and country.
The fallout from his trial led to Sergeant Major Glenn Haughton posting a social media video which said: “If you’re a serving soldier or a would-be soldier, and you hold these intolerant and extremist views, as far as I’m concerned, there is no place for you in the British Army – so get out.”
Vehvilainen appeared in the Birmingham Crown Court dock at his trial alongside fellow 2 Anglians soldier Private Mark Barrett, who was also accused of membership of the banned group.
Barrett was acquitted of being a National Action member, but jurors heard that he had a cardboard swastika openly displayed on his windowsill at Alexander Barracks in Cyprus.
The 25-year-old told police during interviews that his sketchbook doodles of the Nazi symbol and Second World War German tanks had been at the behest of “intimidating” Vehvilainen.
It is understood that Vehvilainen and Barrett, formerly of Kendrew Barracks, Cottesmore, Rutland, have since been thrown out of the Army.
Two other soldiers, both of whom knew Vehvilainen, faced criminal charges but were internally disciplined and remained in the Army.
Vehvilainen had been a key part of National Action’s strategy of attempting to grow its membership within the armed forces.
Other National Action members, some who pleaded guilty and some convicted after trial, also tried repeatedly to join the Army but were rejected.
Vehvilainen, a married father-of-three, lived at Sennybridge Camp, Powys, Wales, but was renovating a home he had bought in the village of Llansilin, in efforts to build a whites-only stronghold.
It was in that house police found a photograph showing him giving a Nazi-style salute at a 1917 memorial to his native Finland’s independence.
Officers also uncovered what prosecutors described as an arsenal of weapons, including a warhammer, a legally held shotgun, swastika bunting and other Nazi paraphernalia.
In the garage of his house at Sennybridge, he kept a makeshift target dummy, and body armour which had been spray-painted black.
He had a part-time job at an activity centre nearby, and had served with distinction since joining the Army in 2012.
His sentencing hearing was told he “served his country and risked his life in Afghanistan”, and was considered “an outstanding soldier”.
Pavlos Panayi QC told the trial judge: “His career in the Army is over and he leaves having brought dishonour on himself and what is more, infamy.”
It also emerged that on the day of his arrest in September 2017, Vehvilainen’s father-in-law was at home and the resulting shock caused him to suffer a stroke, and he died a month later.
Mr Panayi said: “The defendant will always have that on his conscience.”
When he was arrested, Vehvilainen told his wife: “I’m being arrested for being a patriot.”
He admitted possession of a banned pepper spray before his trial, but was cleared of having a document useful to a terrorist and two counts of stirring up racial hatred in forum posts on the website Christogenea.org.
In a statement on far-right extremism in the armed forces, the Ministry of Defence said: “Extremist ideology is completely at odds with the values and ethos of the armed forces.
“The armed forces have robust measures in place to ensure those exhibiting extremist views are neither tolerated nor permitted to serve.
“All allegations of unacceptable behaviour are investigated and action taken as appropriate.”
All Armed Forces personnel are subject to vetting during recruitment, to establish previous convictions or existing links to extremist or banned organisations.
All ranks receive training on the standards expected of the forces, with annual refreshers.
Following Vehvilainen's conviction, Colonel Graham Taylor, of the Army Personnel Services Group, said: “Far right ideology is completely at odds with the values and standards of the Army and whilst we are only talking about a very small number of cases we take this issue very seriously.
“We have robust measures in place, including during the recruitment process, to ensure those exhibiting extremist views are neither tolerated nor permitted to serve.
“Any soldier receiving a custodial sentence will be discharged from the Army.”