Man who threatened to carry out 'Dunblane style massacre' on Belfast primary school handed probation order
A man who threatened to carry out a Dunblane style massacre on an east Belfast primary school has been handed a two-year probation order.
Martyn James Price (35), now with an address at a hostel in St Columbs Wells, Londonderry, pleaded guilty to making a threat to kill more than 16 children aged five at Elmgrove Primary school two years ago.
He also pleaded guilty to causing criminal damage to furniture at a Belfast apartment block and possession a quantity of cannabis.
Downpatrick Crown Court heard that in January 2015 Price made the threat to kill during the course of communications with a customer support adviser at England-based Gamsesy Ltd, an online betting and gaming entertainment company.
Prosecution lawyer Sam Magee said that Price had been informed that his online account had been suspended pending an investigation over another account he held with a second betting company.
Price, he said, disputed this and claimed his account must have been "hacked''.
"About an hour later, Price sent an email in the following terms and I quote: 'It doesn't matter. Forget about it. I am walking into a school on Friday and I am going to kill as many five year old kids as I can before ARU (Armed Response Unit) shoots me. I am hoping to top Thomas Hamilton by killing more than he did'.''
Mr Magee told Judge Gordon Kerr QC that Thomas Hamilton was a reference to the man who carried out the Dunblane Massacre in Scotland.
Hamilton walked into Dunblane Primary School in March 1996 armed with four handguns and shot dead 16 P1 pupils, all aged five, in the gymnasium. One teacher was also murdered.
The prosecution lawyer told the court that the account handler "had to read the contents of the email twice, he couldn't believe its content. He was left very angry, shocked and disturbed by the email".
He added that the account handler's concerns were "heightened'' as the threat was made about a school day and at a time when the school would be about to start.
The court heard that the defendant had contacted a property letting company the previous day "making a specific threat to the Elmgrove Primary School in east Belfast''.
"Police were then able to link the two pieces of information and raised the alarm,'' said Mr Magee.
"They attended an apartment which he rented at the Obel building in Donegall Quay, Belfast. The defendant was present when police entered at 10pm on January 22, 2015.
"He was arrested and cautioned but made no reply other than to say: 'Don't hurt me. Am I going to jail?'.''
The court heard that as a result of the threat, Elmgrove Primary School was closed the following day, Friday, January 23. A security review was instigated which cost up to £15,000 in additional security measures the school had to deploy on its premise.
Following his arrest, Price was found to be in possession of a quantity of cannabis. The court heard the criminal damage of £250 related to a broken chair, a broken coffee table, a lamp and a kettle in his rented flat which was owned by Apple Apartments.
Mr Magee confirmed to the court that no offensive weapons which could have been used to carry out a "violent attack on the school'' were found in the apartment and no maps, photographs or plans of the school were found.
"Nothing was found that would have suggested that the threat would have been acted upon,'' added the prosecution lawyer.
The court heard Price had 11 previous convictions including one for making a threat to kill against a bookmakers shop in England.
Defence counsel Richard Greene QC said unemployed Price was now compliant with his mood stabilising and anti-psychotic medication.
"It is clear that at the time of the offending he felt frustrated, stressed, he was taking cannabis and alcohol which made him even more stressed and more annoyed and it was his annoyance at the relationship between himself and the online gaming company which blackened the stability of his mind that then created the frustration in sending out the email.
"His attitude and remorse are set out in the pre-sentence report. With hindsight, and possibly only with hindsight, it is easy to see that he did not intend to harm anyone.
"Of course anyone seeing or reading those emails would have felt very concerned and it is not surprising that these emails were passed on.
"Whilst it was a malicious communication, actually it was an empty threat.''
Mr Greene told the court that Price had been back in the community for the past 13 months and had not come any further police attention.
"If a probation order were to be made, there is every hope and expectation that he will be able to reach out to those who can give him some help and support. He hasn't had that help in the last 13 months and yet he has kept himself out of trouble.''
Judge Gordon Kerr QC told Price: "It is perfectly obvious that any such threat made to a school has to be treated seriously by the courts, particularly for someone like you who has made threats of a similar nature.
"Such threats cannot be tolerated by the court and can only be dealt with by way of a custodial sentence. If you had have contested these charges and been found guilty I would have imposed a sentence of four to five years.
"The minimum sentence, even on a plea of guilty, that I would have imposed would have been one of three years, with effectively 18 months in custody.''
But the judge said that now Price had served 11 months in custody and had been in the community for the past 13 months, it would be "unduly onerous to send you back into custody to serve any balance of that sentence''.
Judge Kerr QC said given Price's period on remand and his 13 months back in the community without any reoffending, he was prepared to give him a chance to continue his activities outside of jail and avail of the services he needed as set out by the Probation Service.
Handing down a two year probation order, the judge told Price as part of the conditions imposed on his probation order, he was to abstain from drugs and alcohol and may be subject to testing, take part in an addiction programme and engage psychiatric services or any programme deemed appropriate by his probation officer.
"I want to make it clear that if you do not accept those terms, the court has the power to resentence you should the probation order be breached and I will have no hesitation whatsoever in passing the sentence I previously mentioned.
"Although you are assessed as a high likelihood of reoffending, I have to have regard to the probation service who say you are not a danger to the public.''