Autistic Antrim student for trial over hoax US bomb warnings

Ben Megarry to face charges over alleged targeting of facilities including Columbine High School

Ben Megarry (19), from Harmin Park, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, is accused of claiming a bomb had been planted at Columbine High School (above) in Colorado where, in 1999, two students murdered 13 people. File photograph: Getty Images

Ben Megarry (19), from Harmin Park, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, is accused of claiming a bomb had been planted at Columbine High School (above) in Colorado where, in 1999, two students murdered 13 people. File photograph: Getty Images

 

An autistic student from Co Antrim is to stand trial accused of hoax bomb warnings at major US airports and the scene of a previous high-school gun massacre, a judge ordered today.

Ben Megarry (19), appeared before Belfast Magistrates’ Court to face 23 charges over an alleged campaign targeting landmark buildings and iconic locations across the US.

The teenager is accused of claiming a bomb had been planted at Columbine High School in Colorado where, in 1999, two students murdered 13 people.

Threats were also allegedly directed at three international airports - JFK in New York, LAX in Los Angeles, and Kansas City.

A baseball stadium in Kansas and the famous Mann’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard are among other locations where hoax bomb warnings were directed, according to the case against him.

False threats charges

Further charges involve false threats about schools in Texas and California, a County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, a Walmart Sore in Missouri, Central Avenue in Cheyanne, and Ambassador Bridge, Detroit.

Mr Megarry, from Harmin Park, Newtownabbey, was 15 at the time of the alleged offences, which are said to have been committed over a six-month period in 2012.

The case was referred to the PSNI following an investigation by US authorities.

Mr Megarry entered the dock for the first time on Thursday to face 23 counts of communicating false information causing belief of explosives.

He was accompanied by a representative of the National Autistic Society throughout the hearing to decide whether he has a case to answer.

Asked whether he understood the charges against him, the teenager nodded and replied: “Yes.”

Prima facie case

His lawyers did not contest prosecution submissions that a prima facie case has been established.

With no witnesses called or evidence given by the defendant at this stage, District Judge Liam McNally granted an application to have him returned for trial at Belfast Crown Court.

He released Mr Megarry on continuing bail until those proceedings get under way at a date to be fixed.

Defence counsel Luke Curran told the court the prosecution was “novel and voluminous”. He added: “The case itself is a complex one, involving multi agencies and FBI witnesses.”

Judge McNally acknowledged the unusual aspects. “I certainly haven’t come across this type of case where someone in Northern Ireland is allegedly making these types of calls to schools in America.”