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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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