Belfast Telegraph

Troll who threatened to kill New Zealand PM weeps as he avoids jail

Matthew Burns made threats after mass shootings at mosques in Christchurch
Matthew Burns made threats after mass shootings at mosques in Christchurch

By Donal McMahon

A Co Armagh social media "monster" who made online death threats to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and London mayor Sadiq Khan has been sentenced to 100 hours community service.

Matthew Burns (20) of Dundalk Road, Newtownhamilton, appeared at Newry Magistrates Court to be sentenced on multiple charges as a teenager.

Burns, who had no previous record, pleaded guilty to five counts of improper use of electronic communications, with messages of a menacing and grossly offensive nature on dates from June 14, 2018 to March 20, 2019.

The case began when the New Zealand authorities alerted the PSNI cyber crime unit to Twitter death threats made against their premierr.

It followed the Christchurch massacre at two mosques in the city in March 2019, when over 50 people were shot dead.

A Twitter message to Ms Ardern was made by Burns directly after the terrorist attack with a photo of a gun and silencer, tagged with the statement: "You're next."

The New Zealand premier replied to the tweet, condemning the attacks in her country.

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Burns was also convicted of threatening Mr Kahn and his wife with the social media threat that "it would be a shame if something happened to her… like a bullet in the head and him too".

Burns was arrested and during police interview he accepted the charges and admitted to having "far-right wing" political leanings, being homophobic and xenophobic in nature.

Defence barrister Kevin Magill alluded to a pre-sentence report and multiple medical reports showing his client's poor mental health. "He has a myriad of issues, which are now being dealt with," he said.

District Judge Eamonn King spoke at length to Burns, who became tearful in the dock.

"As a result of a complaint made to the PSNI cyber unit by the New Zealand authorities, the police arrived at your door," said Mr King.

"Very quickly afterwards it was found that it wasn't just a one-off and that you had been doing such social media activity from 2016 onwards with Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook."

He added: "You have feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. When you put offensive comments online you are met with a blizzard of responses and engagement. That increases your feeling of self-worth. You feel more important.

"Someone is listening to you and it increases your self-esteem, so you then say something even more outrageous and that escalates and escalates.

"For a complaint on social media you get taken off for 20 or 30 minutes, then after that 30 days. It is like a badge of honour on these platforms.

"You can report 'I was banned' and that pumps you up. I can understand that if there are issues in real life that you don't get a buzz in real life, you hope to get it on social media, and what happens… you create a monster.

"The New Zealand authorities do not want you to be prosecuted, but spoken to, so that you understand the impact of the comments you made. Isn't that a very compassionate and Christian thing to do?

"If I may have an opinion, this is the perfect example of when Facebook and Twitter should not be allowed to self-regulate; there should be more severe consequences."

The judge imposed an enhanced combination order "that will get you out from behind your smartphone and iPad, for you to engage with people - you will then see the impact you make with people in front of your own eyes".

Burns was also put on a year's probation.

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