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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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US Supreme Court Upholds Abortion Clinic Protest Zone Limits In Chicago, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday left in place policies in Chicago and Pennsylvania’s capital Harrisburg that place limits on anti-abortion activists gathered outside abortion clinics.

The justices declined to hear two appeals by anti-abortion groups and individual activists of lower court rulings upholding the cities’ ordinances.

The Chicago policy bars activists from coming within eight feet (2.4 meters) of someone within 50 feet (15 meters) of any healthcare facility without their consent if they intend to protest, offer counseling or hand out leaflets. The Harrisburg measure bars people from congregating or demonstrating within 20 feet (6 meters) of a healthcare facility’s entrance or exit.

Both cases pitted the free speech rights of anti-abortion protesters against public safety concerns raised by women’s healthcare providers regarding demonstrations outside clinics. There is a history of violent acts committed against abortion providers.

At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the ordinances violate free speech rights protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the Chicago ordinance, which was introduced in 2009. The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Harrisburg in 2019. That measure was enacted in response to disruptions by protesters outside two abortion clinics in the city.

The cases did not directly implicate abortion rights. In a major ruling on Monday, the struck down a Louisiana law placing restrictions on doctors that perform abortions.

Also on Thursday, the court directed a lower court to reconsider the legality of two Indiana abortion restrictions – one that would require women to undergo an ultrasound procedure at least 18 hours before terminating a pregnancy and another that would expand parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion. The lower court had struck down both measures.

Abortion remains a divisive issue in the United States. The Supreme Court in its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalized abortion nationwide, finding that women have a constitutional right to the procedure. In recent years, numerous Republican-governed states have sought to impose a series of restrictions on abortion.

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Federal Judge Reverses Trump Asylum Policy Due To Government Failing To Abide By Administrative Procedure Act

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(Law & Crime) — A federal judge appointed by President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening overturned the Trump Administration’s second and most restrictive asylum policy, all because the government failed to abide by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the judge reasoned.

In a 52-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly of Washington, D.C. held that in enacting the rule, which required immigrants to seek asylum in any country they passed through before they could claim asylum in the U.S., the Trump administration “unlawfully dispensed” with mandatory procedural requirements allowing the public to weigh in on proposed rule changes.

Kelly, who was appointed to the court in 2017, rejected the Trump administration’s assertion that the asylum rule fell within exceptions to the APA permitting the government to disregard the notice-and-comment requirement if there’s “good cause” such commentary is unnecessary or if the rule involves a military or foreign affairs function.

“[The court] also holds that Defendants unlawfully promulgated the rule without complying with the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements, because neither the ‘good cause’ nor the ‘foreign affairs function’ exceptions are satisfied on the record here,” Kelly wrote. “Despite their potentially broad sweep, the D.C. Circuit has instructed that these exceptions must be ‘narrowly construed’ and ‘reluctantly countenanced.’ The Circuit has also emphasized that the broader a rule’s reach, ‘the greater the necessity for public comment.’ With these baseline principles in mind, the Court considers whether either the good cause or foreign affairs function exception applies here. Neither does.”

According to Kelly, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) generally allows any person physically in the U.S. seeking refuge to apply for asylum — with some exceptions for immigrants who have committed certain crimes or who had previously been “firmly resettled” prior to arriving in the U.S.

“The Court reiterates that there are many circumstances in which courts appropriately defer to the national security judgments of the Executive. But determining the scope of an APA exception is not one of them,” Kelly wrote. “As noted above, if engaging in notice-and-comment rulemaking before implementing the rule would have harmed ongoing international negotiations, Defendants could have argued that these effects gave them good cause to forgo these procedures. And they could have provided an adequate factual record to support those predictive judgments to which the Court could defer. But they did not do so.”

Claudia Cubas, the Litigation Director at CAIR Coalition, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, praised the decision as removing an “unjust barrier to protection” for those in need.

“By striking down this rule, Judge Kelly reaffirmed two fundamental principles. The protection of asylum seekers fleeing for safety is intertwined with our national values and that the United States is a country where the rule of law cannot be tossed aside for political whims,” Cubas said.

Read the full opinion below:

Asylum Ban Decision by Law&Crime on Scribd

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US Supreme Court Rules Public Funds Allowed For Religious Schools In State Tax Credit Program

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USA Today writes:

The Supreme Court delivered a major victory Tuesday to parents seeking state aid for their children’s religious school education. The court’s conservative majority ruled that states offering scholarships to students in private schools cannot exclude religious schools from such programs.

The decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who has joined the liberal justices in three other major rulings this month. It was a decision long sought by proponents of school choice and vehemently opposed by teachers’ unions, who fear it could drain needed tax dollars from struggling public schools.

Read the US Supreme Court ruling here or below.

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