A disgruntled benefits claimant who built a fake bomb and planted it outside a Middleton job centre in revenge over a cut to his welfare handouts was jailed for two years today.
Jobless grandfather William Harkin, 54, was so fed up that his jobseekers’ allowance was being suspended for three months, he crafted the device using an analogue clock, wires and tape and placed it outside the benefits office building.
He then rang police from a nearby phone box pretending to be a concerned passer-by who had spotted the device.
Police dashed to the scene and sealed off the area as an electronic Explosive Ordnance Disposal robot established the bomb was a fake. Officers found Harkin still in the phone box and took him to the police station for questioning.
He confessed to the crime just hours after the incident in the early hours of June 16 – claiming he was ‘upset’ that his state handouts were to be halted because he had missed a number of college courses designed to help him get a job.
Harkin, originally from Northern Ireland, carried out the hoax the day after the 18th anniversary of the IRA bombings in Manchester and had previous convictions for the same offence in his home country, Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester heard.
He claimed it was an act of ‘abject stupidity and foolishness’ and he had originally intended to stage a rooftop protest and unfurl a banner over the building before he changed his mind. He admitted making a hoax bomb.
Passing sentence Judge Leslie Hull told him: “There was a sense of grievance towards the Department for Work and Pensions for the suspension of your benefits without, what you thought, was just cause. What was said about you was that this was a gesture you were making towards them.
“A gesture it may have been but none of the features which are dealt with justify what you did.
“Part of the menace of what you did is the fact that this would inevitably have been a distraction to the emergency services.”
He added: “There is a photo of the package which shows an analogue clock face, wires and a good deal of taping together. It may be reported as a realistic bomb. Certainly the emergency services had little option but to proceed upon the basis that it was real.
”The area was cordoned off and there was a degree of disruption. You have convictions recorded against you for similar offences in Northern Ireland and it has not escaped attention that this offence was the day after the 18th anniversary of the IRA bomb in Manchester.
“The courts have to do what they can to deter people such as you from doing this sort of thing.”
The court heard that Harkin, of Hopwood Road, Middleton, rang police at around 4.50am to tell them there was a ‘suspicious package’ outside the benefits agency and gave the address.
While he was questioned a bomb disposal squad was deployed and the package was disposed of in a small controlled explosion, which meant a 100 metre cordon was in place for around five hours.
Harkin also had a conviction in Northern Ireland for providing information to a terrorist as part a spate of offences in the early 1980s.
Prosecutor David Lees said: “At about 5am officers attended and located the phone box from which the defendant had made the telephone call and they found him. He pointed out where the device was and they found a brown paper package. Poking through was a full clock fires with wires coming out.
“He said he had been on state benefits for some time and had been on various courses to assist him. He had missed some of these courses and therefore the benefits agency had written to him indicating that his benefits were going to be suspended for three months. As a result he built the package with the intention of upsetting those who had been there.”
In mitigation defence counsel Joseph Hart said Harkin had suffered since his mother and wife had died and he felt he had been ‘messed about’ by the benefits agency.
He said: “The resentment had built up within him and he wanted to do something to bring home to the authorities his frustration and upset at the way he had been left high and dry. His initial thought was to prepare a banner and do a rooftop protest but in the depths of his paranoia and upset alighted on the idea of a bomb hoax. He has a distorted and confused image of what he was trying to achieve.
“The anniversary of the bombings wasn’t something that preyed on his mind. He doesn’t suggest that he has a particular political allegiance.”
Story via Cavendish Press
Image courtesy of Google Maps, with thanks.