A teenager who downloaded guides to making bombs, and is thought to be the youngest person in the UK charged with terrorism offences, has avoided jail after being sentenced to a referral order.
The UK’s chief magistrate, Judge Paul Goldspring, sitting at Newton Aycliffe youth court in County Durham, said that if the 14-year-old boy had been an adult, he would be facing a jail sentence of up to five years.
The boy, from Darlington, downloaded substantial amounts of material on how to make weapons and bombs and how to start a militia. He expressed admiration for the Columbine High school massacre and came to the attention of counter terror police when, en las redes sociales, he talked about blowing up an orphanage.
He had an interest in the far right and posted messages and material that was racist, homofóbico, antisemitic and Islamophobic. Él era 11 when he downloaded an image of Adolf Hitler from 1933.
The boy told the judge that it was all a fantasy and bravado, and that he would never have carried out the kind of attacks he talked about online.
The court heard that the boy was on the autism spectrum. He first appeared at Westminster magistrates court in January when he admitted three counts of possessing material useful to a terrorist.
The judge said the views expressed by the boy were “disgusting”.
“Just about every minority receives your vitriol, and the terminology you used was concerning and abhorrent in equal measure.”
But the judge added that imposing a custodial sentence would undo all the rehabilitation the boy had achieved over the past year.
Defence solicitor, Stephen Andrews, said the boy had experienced traumatic family events which had taken their toll. “You have before the courts a very complex young man, showing signs of both extreme naivety and vulnerability, at the same time as elements of sophistication.”
Andrews said the boy was bullied and extremely isolated, and the internet appeared to be a way of changing that, a way of making himself “look cool”.
Él continuó: “All of a sudden, he has an identity. All of a sudden he belongs to something. All of a sudden he is part of a group.”
The judge questioned to the boy directly, telling him that he was taking a risk by not imposing a custodial sentence.
He asked about his interests – football and hanging out with mates – and whether he held the views he espoused online. "No,” the boy replied “It doesn’t matter what religion or race you are.”
Det Supt Matthew Davison, the regional Prevent co-ordinator at Counter Terrorism Policing North East, said the case illustrated how young people can be radicalised in a strikingly short space of time. “Crossing the line from things that can be quite innocent into what can become criminal can be very quick and very short.”
Davison said the pandemic and lockdowns had led to young people spending more time online, alone in their bedrooms, and that was a concern.
“It can be quite a short journey and that’s why it’s so important for families, amigos, parents or guardians to be aware of the signs to look out for. They should trust their instincts and act early.
“Our mantra is, the earlier we can act, the more we can prevent people progressing down the road to criminality.”