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Sebastian’s mum is one of the leaders of Britain’s conspiracy community. He spoke exclusively to the BBC’s specialist disinformation reporter Marianna Spring about the impact that his mother is having on public health – and their relationship.

It was a sunny autumn morning when I opened up my inbox to see a message from someone called Sebastian.

I recognized his distinctive surname immediately. The day before, I had been covering anti-lockdown protests in central London. Sebastian’s mum, Kate Shemirani, was one of the headline speakers.

A week later, the weather had turned. Drenched from a torrential downpour, I found myself sitting in a dimly-lit London basement opposite Sebastian.

He’s a 21-year-old university student studying philosophy and politics. He seemed nervous – but determined. He told me he felt a duty to speak out, for the sake of public health, and for others whose loved ones may be going down a similar path.

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Over the course of three hours, he detailed how his mum had gained a huge online following by spreading falsehoods about the pandemic. She’s denied that coronavirus exists, alleges that the government is planning a mass genocide, and has compared the National Health Service to Nazi Germany. Her views – broadcast to tens of thousands of online followers and often repeated by even larger accounts – threaten to undermine critical public health messages. But for Sebastian, it was also an intensely personal story. Conspiracy theories were his childhood lullabies. Starting from when he was about 10 or 11, he says, he was shown YouTube videos about secret plots and given books about “lizard people”. Image caption Sebastian Shemirani hopes to help others whose families have been affected by conspiracy theoriesSebastian got good grades and ended up going to a private boarding school. The time away from his family resulted in him challenging his mum’s baseless claims. He described to me in heartbreaking detail the breakdown of their relationship. He left home when he was 17, and these days the little interaction he has with his mother comes via text message.”There’s no way for me to talk to her at all because she’s completely obsessed,” he said.