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Boys who plotted UK school shooting guilty of murder conspiracy

Two Columbine-obsessed teenagers stockpiled bomb-making materials, court heard

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Boys who plotted UK school shooting guilty of murder conspiracy” was written by Helen Pidd and Josh Halliday, for The Guardian on Thursday 24th May 2018 16.45 UTC

Two teenage boys have been found guilty of plotting to kill pupils and teachers at their North Yorkshire school after developing an obsession with the Columbine massacre.

The boys, who were 14 when their plans were uncovered last October, intended to shoot pupils and teachers “to clear out the underclass” and had begun stockpiling bomb-making equipment to blow up the school in Northallerton, Leeds crown court heard.

The teenagers, who cannot be named because of their age, did not give evidence in their trial, but their lawyers claimed the plot was a fantasy they never intended to make reality. The jury thought differently, finding them both guilty of conspiracy to murder.

After the jury heard that one of the boys confessed to officers a month before they were arrested, North Yorkshire police accepted in a statement that its initial response “did not meet those standards that are expected of us”.

The older boy was also found guilty of unlawful wounding after he carved his name into his former girlfriend’s lower back, and aggravated burglary after breaking into her parents’ home with a knife.

He was the ringleader, the prosecution argued. Much of the crown’s evidence came from his girlfriend. In a police video shown to the jury, she said the boy planned to steal guns from her father, who was involved in game shooting, and would use them to carry out a massacre at his school.

She told the officer he was interested in “scarification” and that she reluctantly let him carve his name into her lower back with a penknife. She said she was scared he would harm her or others if she said no. Under cross-examination she said she had loved the boy. “It kills me not being able to see him and talk to him and hold his hand and go to Costa, but I lost that in the most horrible way,” she said, prompting the boy to burst into tears in court.

She said he posted videos of live suicides and other distressing and offensive material to social networking sites and enjoyed it when people were frightened of him.

Looking up the Columbine killers online was an obsession for the boy, the court heard. In the space of 14 hours last October he made more than 30 internet searches about the 1999 attack, and about building nail bombs, making a sawn-off shotgun and buying ammunition.

The jury heard extracts from the boy’s diary where he outlined plans to run away to a nearby garrison. On page three of the journal he had written: “Sorry if this is found I have committed one of the worst atrocities in British history or I killed myself.” In October last year he wrote an entry describing a plan to attack his school, saying: “I will obliterate it. I will kill everyone.”

A few weeks later he was caught inside his girlfriend’s bedroom by her mother. He was dressed in a trenchcoat like Eric Harris, one of the Columbine killers. He ran away – his girlfriend’s parents had made it clear he was not welcome in their house – and she looked out of the window to see him carrying a large knife. The boy later admitted he had taken the knife from his parents’ kitchen at some point and had written the word “love” on it, but insisted he had only visited his girlfriend that night because they were going to run away together.

The next day, 22 October, the boy’s hideout was discovered behind a branch of Londis in Northallerton. It was searched and officers found a rucksack containing balaclavas, wires, batteries, a big bag of screws, a bag of zip ties and a bottle of petrol-like liquid. He was arrested the following day and denied planning to kill his girlfriend’s parents or anyone at his school.

Yet in his diary he had written that he had been planning an attack for more than a year and had been collecting “materials” for months.

When interviewed by police, the boy said parts of the diary were written as fantasy in order to impress his girlfriend. Other entries were written as a form of therapy, he claimed. But the psychologist he had been seeing before his arrest told detectives she had never asked him to keep a diary.

The boy’s lawyer, Richard Pratt QC, had sought to convince the jury that the diary was the “wildest piece of fantasy”. He said the boy only had £89 in his bank account and so could not have bought the necessary ingredients to make a bomb, even if he wanted to.

“Researching the Columbine murderers does not make you a killer,” the barrister said. “Buying guns and explosives – that’s what makes you a killer.”

The younger boy blamed his older friend for the plot, saying he had been “manipulated” by him.

After voluntarily attending a police station with his mother, he accepted discussing carrying out a school shooting but was adamant that he would never have carried it out.

His account was partly corroborated by the other boy’s girlfriend, who said she understood the younger boy had “bottled it” and backed out. But the crown said that was no defence to conspiracy to murder, because the boy had been a willing plotter, even if he subsequently thought better of it.

The boy also claimed that he had informed another classmate and a teacher in a bid to stop his co-accused proceeding with the plan. Yet the jury heard that the same boy had made “clear and unvarnished confessions” that he was central to the alleged plot, telling a school friend details of the “secret” in September 2017 on the messaging app Snapchat.

In court, the boys bore little resemblance to their portrayal by the prosecution as would-be school shooters. Both asked to sit next to their mothers and appeared overawed as the evidence was outlined.

In the earliest days of the trial, the younger boy wore his school uniform – despite not attending school since his arrest in October. Fellow pupils at the school and their parents said the older boy, who was living during the trial in a children’s secure unit 100 miles away from his parents, was “pretty badly bullied” at school and seen as an outsider.

After the prosecutor told the court that “you may conclude that the police in North Yorkshire responded inadequately to the threat these two defendants presented”, the force’s head of safeguarding, Allen Harder, was asked repeatedly whether the force had made mistakes but did not answer.

He said: “In terms of any investigation, there’s always lessons to be learned – positive lessons and lessons to be taken forward to best practice. We’ll review that and we’ll be taking any learning from that.”

The boys will be sentenced at a later date.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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7.3 Earthquake hits New Britain island in Papua New Guinea

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7.3 Earthquake hits New Britain island in Papua New Guinea.

Preliminary reports warn tsunami waves could hit areas within 300km of the earthquake’s epicentre.

The quake hit off the coast New Britain region of Papua New Guinea earlier today. (Daily Star)

This is a breaking story and will be updated shortly

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NY Man Planned to Blow Himself Up at Washington Mall

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Police and FBI agents searched a Hudson Valley home Wednesday after learning about a man who was allegedly building a bomb in order to blow himself up in Washington D.C., two law enforcement officials told News 4 New York.

Investigators said they were concerned the man, identified as Paul Rosenfeld, at the home on Slocum Avenue in Orangetown was in the process of acquiring bomb parts.

Officials tell News 4 Rosenfeld had no criminal history but had told a reporter in Pennsylvania he planned to blow himself up on the Washington Mall around Election Day because he was angry about the country’s direction. 

He had no plans to hurt anyone else, officials said. He is believed to be a lone actor not affiliated with any international terror group or ideology. 

Full Article at https://nts24.co.uk/2A2oWjM 

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Trump ‘demanding’ answers from Saudis about missing writer

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S. is “demanding” answers from Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of a well-known Saudi writer and government critic Turkish authorities say was slain inside his country’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul.

Trump said he plans to invite to the White House the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, a writer for The Washington Post who has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2 to get paperwork for his marriage.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question during an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

Members of Congress have grown increasingly insistent that the administration find out what happened to Khashoggi. The Saudi government has become a closer ally under Trump and some lawmakers warn that relations could be jeopardized if it turns out the kingdom was involved in his disappearance.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he has a call in to the fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who had been waiting outside the consulate when Khashoggi went inside and has appealed to the president and first lady Melania Trump for help.

Trump said nobody knows exactly what happened and expressed hope that Khashoggi is not dead. He also said he had spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.

Saudi Arabia denies involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi, a former insider in Saudi government circles who has been living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for the past year after fleeing a crackdown on intellectuals and activists in the country.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House national security adviser John Bolton and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke on Tuesday to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about Khashoggi. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then had a follow-up call with the crown prince to reiterate the U.S. request for information.

While angry members of Congress likely won’t cause the administration to turn away from Prince Mohammed and end decades of close security ties with Saudi Arabia, they could throw a wrench into arms sales that require their approval and demand the U.S. scale back support for the Saudi military campaign against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “there will definitely be consequences” if it turns out the Saudis were involved in Khashoggi disappearance. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it would be “devastating” to the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, said if Saudi Arabia had lured a U.S. resident into a consulate and killed him, “it’s time for the United States to rethink our military, political and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia.” But he said it was unclear whether the Trump administration was willing to “go beyond words.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a longtime critic of the Saudi government, said he’ll try to force a vote in the Senate this week blocking U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He told local radio in his home state Tuesday that he wants to end the arms shipments if there’s “any indication” the Saudis are “implicated in killing this journalist that was critical of them.”

Trump’s comments Wednesday were the toughest yet from his administration on the Khashoggi case. Officials have expressed concern but refused even to entertain questions about what the consequences would be if Turkish allegations turn out to be true. Pompeo has called on the Saudi government to conduct a thorough investigation and to be transparent about its results.

The reaction from European governments has also been cautious. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told his Saudi counterpart that if media reports about Khashoggi were correct, it “would be extremely concerning and the U.K. will treat the incident very seriously,” according to the Foreign Office.

The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, has described the allegations as “malicious leaks and grim rumors” and said the kingdom is “gravely concerned” about Khashoggi. Saudi officials maintain he left the consulate shortly after entering, although it has failed to provide evidence.

Washington Post CEO and publisher Fred Ryan said reports suggested the journalist was victim of “state-sponsored, cold-blooded murder.” He demanded answers in a statement Tuesday, saying “Silence, denials and delays are not acceptable.”

Analysts said there were reasons for skepticism about the Turkish account. Ties between Ankara and Riyadh are at a low point over Turkey’s support for Qatar in that country’s yearlong dispute with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim power, is also annoyed by Ankara’s rapprochement with the kingdom’s Shiite archrival, Iran.

Saudi authorities’ failure to provide video footage of Khashoggi’s movements at the consulate to rebut the Turkish allegations have only deepened suspicions.

The Trump administration, from the president on down, is heavily invested in the Saudi relationship. That’s unlikely to change, said Robin Wright, a scholar at the Wilson Center think tank and close friend of the missing writer. The administration’s Middle East agenda heavily depends on the Saudis, including efforts to counter Iranian influence in the region, fight extremism and build support for an expected plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Indication of those stakes came within four months of Trump taking office, when Saudi Arabia became his first destination on a presidential trip and he announced $110 billion in proposed arms sales.

Prince Mohammed has introduced some economic and social reforms, allowing women to drive and opening movie theaters in the deeply conservative Muslim nation. The flip side, however, is that he’s also squelched dissent and imprisoned activists. He has championed the three-year military campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen that has pushed that nation toward famine and caused many civilian deaths.

Still, the Trump administration last month stood behind its support for that campaign with weapons, logistics and intelligence, certifying that the Saudis were taken adequate steps to prevent civilian despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Karen Elliott House, a veteran writer on Saudi affairs and chair of the board of trustees at RAND Corp., said U.S. support for the Yemen war is likely to be the focus of congressional criticism but won’t endanger a relationship that has endured for decades, underpinned by shared strategic interests. Even under the Obama administration, which had difficult relations with Riyadh compared with Trump, there were some $65 billion in completed arms sales.

“The U.S.-Saudi relationship is certainly not about shared moral values,” House said. “It’s about shared security interests.”

___

Associated Press writers Susannah George, Matthew Lee and Deb Riechmann and video journalist Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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