Suspended sentence for man who sent Belfast radio station IRA bomb warnings
A Belfast man who texted a local radio station claiming he was a member of the IRA and that bombs had been left outside Probation Board offices in the city has avoided a jail term.
Stuart Rankin - who Belfast Crown Court heard had mental health issues and learning difficulties - also breached the terms of a previously imposed Sexual Offences Prevention Order by possessing a mobile phone when he was banned from doing do.
The 29-year old, from Glencairn Crescent, was handed a two-and-a-half year sentence by Judge Geoffrey Miller QC, who suspended the sentence for two years.
At the hearing on Thursday, Judge Miller warned Rankin that if he committed any further offences within that two year period, this "would lead to immediate custody".
Prior to sentencing, Judge Miller was told that on January 8 last year a producer and presenter with the U105 radio station at Havelock House, received a text message shortly before noon.
The text sender claimed to be from the IRA and said a bomb had been left outside Probation NI's headquarters in North Street, and also outside Probation offices at Great Patrick Street. The text also said "tell the PSNI now, quick".
Police were contacted, who in turn checked both buildings and surrounding areas. Nothing suspicious was located in either area and the text was later declared a hoax.
The mobile number was subsequently traced to Rankin, who was banned from having a phone under the terms of a SOPO imposed for a previous offence. When the phone was analysed, it transpired that the phone had been used repeatedly to both call and text Rankin's mother.
It also transpired that the text message sent to U105 had been sent from the vicinity of a city centre hostel where Rankin had been stayed at the time.
On April 21, his mother's home was searched but Rankin was not present. She told officers she couldn't get hold of him as he had no phone, but he attended a police station later that day.
He was interviewed, and when the mobile phone analysis was presented to him, he made a 'no comment' response.
Rankin subsequently pleaded guilty to communicating false information causing a belief that a bomb may explode, and also breaching his SOPO by possessing a mobile phone.
Defence barrister Barry Gibson spoke of his client's poor mental health and his social isolation. He also urged Judge Miller to show leniency, telling the court "custody would be a significant challenge for him and would be detrimental to his mental health".
Passing sentence, Judge Miller said that whilst the hoax bomb threat didn't cause too much disruption, it was nonetheless a serious matter.
Regarding Rankin's background, the Judge revealed that Rankin suffered a series of serious head injuries between the ages of two and 16, as well as sustaining further injuries in adulthood. Judge Miller also spoke of Rankin's cognitive and behavioural problems, as well as having a low IQ and a learning disability.
Saying he could see "no benefit" from sending Rankin to prison, Judge Miller handed him a suspended sentence.
Before releasing Rankin, Judge Miller told him: "You are, quite frankly, at a point where any further offending in the next two years will lead to immediate custody."