Andreas Dowling, 24, pleaded guilty to 30 charges relating to a total of 107 offences
A bomb hoaxer who called in fake threats against schools, the Houses of Parliament, and the Superbowl has been jailed for more than four years.
Briton Andreas Dowling, 24, made threats to about 70 schools in the UK, affecting more than 44,000 pupils, and various locations in the US and Canada.
Dowling pleaded guilty to 30 charges relating to a total of 107 offences after he made a string of hoax bomb threats in Britain and North America.
Judge Mrs Justice May said his actions were ‘pernicious and nasty’ and jailed Dowling, of Torpoint, Cornwall, for four years and five months at Exeter Crown Court.
The judge was told his motivations varied and included racism, punishing the US Government for perceived corruption, and closing schools for pupils in return for payment.
The court heard Jewish schools were ‘over-represented’ as targets in the UK-based hoaxes and were selected ‘based on racial or religious identity of the students’.
The prosecution said threats to the Jewish schools referred to bombs going off at ‘4.20pm’, which was a reference to Adolf Hitler’s birthday of April 20.
Sentencing, Mrs Justice May said: ‘One has only to imagine the extreme anxiety head teachers must have felt receiving news of a bomb threat and how pernicious and cruel it was to make those calls’.
Exeter Crown Court heard Dowling, pictured at police interview, made threats to about 70 schools in the UK, affecting more than 44,000 pupils, and various locations in the US and Canada
Dowling lived with his mother and used software to disguise his voice. His crimes included 20 counts of making hoax bomb threats to schools across England and the Houses of Parliament between January 19 and February 8, 2016.
He admitted a further 10 offences relating to hoax bomb threats made to a number of American schools and police departments and the New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl XLIX between October 10, 2014 and February 1, 2015, as well as a threat to a Canadian school during the same period.
The defendant also admitted an offence of encouraging the distribution of an indecent image of a child.
He was caught following an international investigation led by Counter Terrorism Policing in the South West of England, who teamed up with the FBI and officers in Michigan.
The investigation between the different agencies uncovered many earlier offences committed by Dowling in the US dating back to 2014.
The court heard that Dowling was a member of a small online group which claimed responsibility for a campaign of bomb threats across the world in 2016.
This caused substantial disruption to the education of tens of thousands of pupils and sparked major policing responses in the affected areas.
He was caught following an international investigation led by Counter Terrorism Policing in the South West of England, who teamed up with the FBI and officers in Michigan
Speaking after the case Senior National Coordinator for Pursue, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, said: ‘When Counter Terrorism Policing colleagues in the South West began investigating back in 2016, they were dealing with a constant stream of calls to schools and colleges that were causing serious disruption and distress to parents, teachers and pupils.
‘These hoaxes had a significant psychological impact on those affected and resulted in long and complex investigations which required significant resources from the many law enforcement agencies involved in both the UK and United States of America.
‘I hope this will serve as notice to anyone who considers such acts in the future that no matter how long it takes, or how far we have to travel to gather evidence, we will find you. You may think that technology will protect you but it will also help us track you down.
‘I want to thank all those who were affected for their support in bringing Dowling to justice and I particularly want to thank our colleagues in the US for working so diligently with us to put an end to Dowling’s activities.’
CTP SW picked up the investigation after a school in Cornwall and several in Bristol were the first to be targeted.
After becoming aware of similar hoaxes taking place in the US around the same time, investigators made contact with the FBI and together they identified Dowling as a suspect.
Following a search of his home and digital devices, it was revealed Dowling owned an eBook which included chapters about making bomb threats to high schools and another providing instructions about how to send armed response officers to someone’s house. He also had a file titled ‘bomb threats by email’.
Senior Investigating Officer DCI Mike Selbie said: ‘This was a particularly complex and challenging investigation which crossed international borders and required us to look beyond conventional investigative techniques.
Dowling also threatened the Houses of Parliament on February 8, 2016. He was arrested in June of this year following an investigation by Counter Terrorism Policing South West
‘The hoaxes had a profound effect upon the schools and colleges affected, creating a culture of anxiety and fear amongst the pupils. It was therefore vitally important we brought those responsible to justice, irrespective of the length of time it took.
‘Dowling tried to use computer software to hide both his identity and the sheer scale of his offending, but with the assistance of the FBI and a number of US law enforcement agencies we were able to build our case against him.
‘Such was the weight of evidence, Dowling had little choice but to admit to causing chaos and distress to his victims worldwide.’
An FBI spokeswoman added: ‘The FBI is grateful to have had the opportunity to work with our international law enforcement partners in the United Kingdom on this case. Although these bomb threats were determined to be hoaxes, no threat is taken lightly.
‘Each incident is treated as a real event, which drains law enforcement resources that could be utilized for real investigations and emergency response matters, not to mention the unnecessary pain it causes the victim targets.
‘This case demonstrates just how crucial international cooperation and coordination is today as crimes such as this, using technology to help inflict fear and anxiety upon others, are truly borderless. The FBI shares this commitment to justice and keeping our citizens safe through these valuable foreign partnerships and look forward to working together again in the future.’