16/12/2019 16:42 GMT | Updated 16/12/2019 17:02 GMT

What Happens When A Loved One's Murder Is Weaponised By Neo-Nazis

John Rimmer’s family were devastated to find his death had been exploited by the far-right to promote white supremacy.

Andrea Cottrell
John Rimmer

It took just 11 days for news of John Rimmer’s murder to make it to the front pages of an American far-right neo-Nazi website.

John, 54, was found in a street in Rochdale with serious head injuries. He died in hospital the next day: September 6.

In the weeks after his death, 44-year-old Muhammed Faisal Ubaid, of Denver Road, Rochdale, appeared at Manchester Crown Court after being charged with John’s murder. He remains in custody ahead of a trial to take place in 2020.

A lifelong punk, John had been one of the earliest residents of the Ashfield Valley estate in Rochdale, which was once home to a thriving community of artists and activists. 

It was there, 30 years ago that he met his former partner Andrea Cottrell – now 49. “When I met him, he changed my whole world,” she said. 

“He opened my eyes to activism and fighting justice and we were involved in so many different groups and movements.

“He was a pacifist, adored animals, and was loved by everyone. All our friends would call him the doctor because he would help anyone whenever he could.” 

Andrea Cottrell
John Rimmer

The pair had a son together, now 30, but broke up after five years when John’s drug use increased. 

“I made the decision to leave, but we were best friends, soul mates, right up to the end,” Andrea explained. “We would see him once a week at least – he would make us little presents and never caused us any problems. 

“He was so trusting, spent his early years never believing anyone could lie to him. He was so gentle and truly open-hearted. 

“It wasn’t until he got older that he realised life could be cruel, and as a result became quite reclusive. Even after that realisation we still spoke constantly, and I always knew he would be there if I needed him.”

News of his death shocked the close knit artistic community he had remained a part of, despite the group’s gradual dispersal, and the support offered to his family was overwhelming, Andrea said. 

More than £2,000 was raised by friends for his funeral, and within a fortnight of John’s death Ubaid had been charged. 

It wasn’t until November – as reported in the Manchester Evening News – that Andrea was made aware by her son of the article circulated online by white supremacists.

“I was sitting in bed,” she said. “The first thing I said was ‘hang on – let me get my glasses on’,” she laughs. “But as soon as I’d read those words they started to boom almost like an echo. They were pulsating.

“We were all just sitting there, trying to get our heads around how sick it was. It was like a missile had landed in the bedroom.”

Not counting a block of text copied and pasted from the BBC’s coverage of the case, the article is just three lines long. Forty-seven words, brimming with racist slurs and stereotypes.

Because his alleged killer had a Pakistani-sounding name, the authors loaded the article with Islamophobic propaganda and anti-Asian slurs.

At the very top of the page were two pictures of John – one of him aged 19, and another of him released by police a couple of years before his death.

Greater Manchester Police/Family Handout
The pictures of John used by the website, which had also been released by Greater Manchester Police. 

“He wasn’t techy at all, never had a phone or a camera, so the few pictures we have of him are really precious,” Andrea explained. 

“The words are sickening, but it was seeing his face on the site that really devastated me. Because they’re of him at such different ages it feels like that’s his whole life up there, in a way. 

“It makes it look as though we’ve somehow given permission for them to be used, which of course we never, ever would.” 

The article is just one of hundreds of near-identical pieces on a website brimming with sickening white supremacist sentiments. The front page of the website itself contains a crude countdown clock, which purports to show the decline of white people worldwide. 

In the past the site has mobilised a so-called “troll army” that encouraged readers to harass Luciana Berger online and gave advice on how to limit traceability. 

The content available on the site is so vitriolic that it is not listed by search engines.

“I don’t know anything about the world these websites operate it in – the advice we’ve had makes it clear that we’re in a tricky position,” Andrea explained. 

″Where are we, if anyone can take the news of someone’s death and wilfully twist it and entwine it with hate?

“It creates a narrative that’s only being used to divide us – something that John explicitly stood against his entire life.”

Andrea isn’t sure what their next steps will be, but for now she is doing everything she can to make sure the John she knew is the John that is remembered.

“In a way it feels like they’ve somehow zeroed his life out, having that disgusting language associated with him,” she said.

“It goes against absolutely everything he stood for. The only thing we can do is find a way to make sure they don’t have the last word – it’s made us more determined to talk loudly about everything he was.”