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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.

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Trump Administration Wants California To Pay Back Billions For Bullet Train

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Trump administration plans to cancel $929 million in U.S. money for California’s beleaguered high-speed rail project and wants the state to return an additional $2.5 billion it’s already spent.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announcement Tuesday came after threats from President Donald Trump to make California pay back the money awarded to build the train between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The project has faced cost overruns and years of delays.

The Trump administration argues California hasn’t provided required matching dollars and can’t complete work by a 2022 deadline.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and California rail officials didn’t immediately comment.

Last week, Newsom said the rail project “as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long.” He wants to refocus on building a line in central California.

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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas Calls For Reconsideration of SCOTUS Verdict In New York Times v. Sullivan

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Tuesday urged the court to reconsider its landmark precedent that made it harder for public figures to sue for defamation even as he joined in a decision to end a defamation suit against comedian Bill Cosby.

The 1964 high court ruling in the libel case known as New York Times v. Sullivan has served as a powerful protection for media reporting on public figures. But Thomas, one of the high court’s most conservative justices, said it is not rooted in the U.S. Constitution.

That ruling and the court’s later ones extending it “were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law,” Thomas wrote, expressing views that appear to be aligned with those expressed previously by President Donald Trump.

Thomas made the comments in a concurring opinion agreeing with his fellow justices in refusing to consider reviving a defamation lawsuit against Cosby by Kathrine McKee, an actress and former Las Vegas showgirl who said he falsely called her a liar after she accused him of raping her in 1974.

McKee was represented in the case by attorney Charles Harder, who represented Trump in a defamation suit brought against the president by adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Daniels has said she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, which he denies. McKee had appealed a court ruling in Massachusetts that threw out her lawsuit.

In January 2018, Trump called current defamation laws “a sham and a disgrace” following the publication of a book about the White House by author Michael Wolff called “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which among other things questioned the president’s mental health.

The high court’s unanimous 1964 ruling held that in order to win a libel suit, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the offending statement was made with “actual malice,” meaning knowledge that it was false or reckless disregard as to whether it was false.

The case involved a lawsuit against the New York Times, a newspaper that Trump often criticizes for its coverage of him.

Thomas wrote that “we should carefully examine the original meaning of the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” referring to the constitutional provisions protecting freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the application of those rights to the states.

“If the Constitution does not require public figures to satisfy an actual-malice standard in state-law defamation suits, then neither should we,” Thomas wrote.

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Leaving Neverland: First Trailer For Devastating New Michael Jackson Documentary Released

HBO/Channel 4 production features the testimonies of two men who allege that the singer sexually abused them as children

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Leaving Neverland: first trailer for ‘devastating’ Michael Jackson documentary” was written by Benjamin Lee, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 19th February 2019 19.32 UTC

It’s a documentary Michael Jackson’s estate doesn’t want you to see. But despite legal threats, HBO and Channel 4 will air Leaving Neverland next month.

A new trailer offers a first look at the troubling two-part, four-hour film that premiered at Sundance film festival last month, featuring the testimonies of James Safechuck and Wade Robson, who allege that Jackson sexually abused them as children.

“He told me if they ever found out what we were doing, he and I would go to jail,” says Robson in the trailer.

The film shocked critics and audiences when it was shown at Sundance. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman called it “devastating” and the Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Fienberg praised it as “complicated and heartbreaking”.

“This is not a movie about Michael Jackson,” said director Dan Reed to Variety. “This is not a movie about Michael Jackson abusing little boys. It’s a movie about two families and how two families came to terms with what their sons revealed to them many years after Jackson died.”

Jackson’s estate has already criticised the film in a 10-page letter addressed to HBO’s CEO. It denied the allegations and condemned director Dan Reed for not speaking to anyone in Jackson’s family or legal team. Since the film premiered, some Jackson fans have attacked the director and the two accusers.

“There is also this league of fans who are almost like a cult, and they say very nasty things [about the film] on social media,” Reed said to Vice. “And their words echo the two-decade long rhetoric of the Jackson family and legal team, which is shaming the victims. It happens often in these cases. It’s what they do very aggressively and relentlessly, and I don’t think you can get away with that in 2019 like you could in the past.”

Earlier this month, a Chicago pre-run of an upcoming Broadway show based around Jackson’s music was cancelled because of the Actors’ Equity Association strike reportedly causing delays. Equity has rejected that its “modest” demand was to blame for the cancellation.

“The developmental lab that was scheduled for this production was delayed by 12 working days during the strike,” a spokesman said. “It is difficult to understand how a modest delay in February would impact a run that was scheduled for late October.”

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