Fact Check

Did an American Actor Take Part in a London Bomb Attack 'Hoax'?

A bizarre false flag conspiracy theory falsely links an actor from NBC's 'The Office' to the Parsons Green terrorist attack.

Published Sept. 22, 2017

 (Brian Minkoff / Shutterstock.com)
Image courtesy of Brian Minkoff / Shutterstock.com
The actor Nora Kirkpatrick "played" a victim as part of a fake terrorist bomb attack at Parsons Green in London.

In September 2017, the Facebook page The Crisis Actor falsely reported that a woman photographed at the scene of a bomb attack in London days earlier was, in fact, an American actor who was taking part in a hoax. Their post accompanied a photograph of a woman incorrectly identified as an "actress" named Nora Kirkpatrick, who portrayed Esther Bruegger in the NBC television series The Office and plays accordion with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros:

The Crisis Actor's Facebook post, which has since been deleted, also included a series of other claims and rhetorical questions intended to suggest that the 15 September 2017 bomb attack on a London Underground train at Parsons Green was a hoax. We will individually address each of these claims, which we have found to all be either false, misleading, or irrelevant.

The woman whose image was widely used in coverage of the bomb attack is not the American actor Nora Kirkpatrick. This becomes quite clear when her appearance is compared to that of Kirkpatrick's. Indeed, in response to our queries the Crisis Actor accepted that the two pictured women are not the same person. A Facebook post issued by Kirkpatrick on 15 September 2017
suggested she was in Los Angeles at the time of the attack, not in London.

The other claims made in the now-deleted Crisis Actor post included the following:

1. One of the "PC's" was wearing jeans.

In response to our request for evidence documenting this statement, the Crisis Actor directed us to a PA Images photograph taken on the day of the attack, which seemingly shows a PC (i.e., police constable) clad in jeans. However, there are several non-suspect explanations for why a police officer might be wearing jeans at a given moment, and in this case the photograph shows four police officers at work near the site of the bomb attack who apparently were simply wearing plain clothes at that moment. In any case, it stretches credulity to propose that an extremely complicated "false flag" operation orchestrated by sophisticated forces such as the Metropolitan Police and U.K. intelligence services were caught out because a participant slipped up and forgot to wear the right trousers.

2. The police car registration number LX13 AOS shown in the incident is a hire car from a film props company. The reg is up for tax next year. The police do not tax their vehicles.

This statement is demonstrably false. We found one photograph of a vehicle that may have borne this license plate (i.e., registration) number: A police van seen on the right-hand side of a PA Images photograph taken near Parsons Green on the day of the attack appears to bear the license plate LX13 AOS. However, this van (a Vauxhall Vivaro) has been part of the British Transport Police fleet since at least as far back as May 2014, according to the British Transport Police;s response to a Freedom of Information request.

In response to our questions, the Crisis Actor admitted that the police van "seems to be a bogus lead" and accepted that it "appears" to be an authentic police vehicle rather than a rented prop.

3. The lady pictured with her "burnt" ear in a bandage ... was pictured using her phone next to the same ear.

It's not clear from the photograph how badly the woman in question was hurt, nor exactly what part of her head might have been injured. If she was photographed using a cellphone, it's not possible to draw any conclusions about what that means: she might have placed the phone next to an uninjured ear, or her ear may not have sustained damage so severe that using it with a cellphone was necessarily difficult or painful (especially in the context of an emergency during which contacting loved ones would likely have been a priority).

The Crisis Actor directed us to a photograph that appeared on the Metro news web site, but that image was too blurry to definitively identify whether the woman captured on a cell phone in the background of that photograph was the same woman pictured the photograph used in the Crisis Actor's Facebook post.

4. The "gas" ignited inside the whole length of a train carriage with the doors closed. But why no smoke, no heat damage to the carriage, papers unburnt on the floor, no windows blown out, no deafened "victims".

This aspect of the Parsons Green attack is one most commonly cited as evidence the incident was a staged hoax. The failure of the bomb to cause extensive damage to the interior of the train carriage, the survival of the plastic bag and bucket that contained the bomb, the absence of plumes of smoke in the aftermath of the bomb, and the widespread lack of visible scorching on victims — elements familiar from the scenes of many homemade bomb attacks in confined spaces — are genuinely puzzling at first glance.

We consulted explosives expert Dr. Sidney Alford about this aspect, who proposed some possible explanations for the absence of damage often observed in homemade bombs. Primarily, Alford said, the evidence he had seen in news reports about the Parsons Green attack appeared consistent with a TATP (triacetone triperoxide) device that simply did not detonate properly. We have highlighted observations made by Dr. Alford which are particularly relevant to the points made by Parsons Green conspiracy theorists:

Traditional military explosives such as are (or were) used in artillery shells and aircraft bombs usually contained substances, such as TNT and ammonium picrate, which were not oxygen balanced; that is, the carbon to oxygen balance is very high and their detonation is characterized by the production of a lot of carbon, whence the copious black smoke (and usually a fire-ball) produced. This is not a characteristic of all explosives however and TATP does not decompose to a similar extent: indeed, it produces very little if any smoke.  Neither does it produce a significant flash.

Unlike TNT, which it is very difficult to cause to explode by hammering on a metal surface, and which burns quietly, TATP is notoriously sensitive to friction and percussion, most of which cause it to detonate.  There are several factors which can cause TATP to be less susceptible to detonation of which the amateur is frequently unaware.

In the present case I expect that the person who prepared the bomb had little previous experience either of its preparation or of its use. It is quite probable that no detonation occurred and such explosion as did occur was only deflagration – that is, rapid burning.  The little damage done to the overall package and its contents show unambiguously that no large and violent explosion occurred.  No shock-wave and no volume of gaseous products sufficient to break windows were generated.  Clearly many passengers received quite a shock and heard something of a bang.  However, I have not seen any reports of damaged ear drums or fragment injuries.

The big question as far as I was concerned was the nature of the apparently remaining contents of the bottom of the bag. It is possible that that was a much larger quantity of TATP than the part which obviously decomposed with some violence.  It is equally possible that only a modest amount TATP was present and that that was intended to initiate a larger amount of another explosive beneath it.  In other words, the TATP was a mere booster.      

My own observations of one or two newspaper photographs of the passengers who were obviously injured and “burnt” in fact suggested that they may have consisted of chemical “burns” rather than wounds attributable to exposure to very high temperatures.  Indeed, the injuries to the legs of a boy being carried by two uniformed helpers appeared to me (on the rather poor photograph) to resemble the injuries caused by concentrated hydrogen peroxide solution.  

If this interpretation is correct then the bang which passengers reported was merely the means of ignition of the TATP, the visible white substance was unreacted TATP, and the main charge remained uninitiated in the bottom part of the bag. Little if any blast damage occurred and few if any serious fragment projection injuries were caused.

I see no reason why the event should be described as a hoax.  Had the type of bomb I suspect detonated then the windows would, indeed, have broken, the carriage burst open and many passengers dismembered.

The Crisis Actor deleted their post after we sent them a series of questions about it, stating that the text of the post had been copied and pasted from another source which they were unable to find. (We were also unable to find a precursor to the The Crisis Actor's post.) They accepted that the woman in the photograph is not, in fact, the actor Nora Kirkpatrick, and asserted that "the [Crisis Actor] page is a satirical take on current events and history" and "we don't intend for people to take things seriously." Nonetheless, similar conspiracy theories about the Parsons Green attack abound elsewhere on the Internet.

Dan Mac Guill is a former writer for Snopes.