x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Etihad flight bomb hoaxer faces 'substantial' jail term

Etihad aircraft from Abu Dhabi had to to be diverted under jet fighter escort from Heathrow to Stansted after 'intoxicated' Briton said a fellow passenger had made a bomb threat.

LONDON // A Briton whose bomb hoax forced an Etihad flight to be diverted under jet fighter escort was told yesterday to expect a "substantial" jail term.

James Glen, a passenger aboard a flight from Abu Dhabi to Heathrow in January, had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to a charge of "communicating information about a bomb hoax" on the Etihad Airbus 320-600 on January 24 - the same day as a suicide bomber killed 35 people at the arrivals terminal of Moscow's busiest airport.

Glen told a flight attendant that a fellow passenger had a gun and had threatened to blow himself up.

Two RAF fighters were scrambled by air traffic controllers after the pilot sent out a terror alert and the airliner, with 163 passengers and 15 crew, was diverted to Stansted Airport in Essex, the designated emergency airport for hijackings or terrorist situations.

At Chelmsford Crown Court in Essex yesterday, Judge Charles Gratwicke postponed sentencing the 38-year-old car worker, originally from Ayr in Scotland, until April 8.

Remanding Glen in custody, the judge agreed to a request from defence lawyers to postpone sentencing so that more information could be gathered about Glen, including psychiatric and toxicology reports.

The court was told that Glen had been living in Australia for 18 years and was returning to the UK to start a new life as a panel beater and car sprayer in Chard, Somerset.

Glen, wearing jeans and a striped rugby top, showed little emotion during the hearing as Duncan Penny, his lawyer, applied for sentencing to be adjourned for a month to enable the reports to be drawn up.

"The background of the offence involves the consumption of alcohol and what was described to probation officers as a sleeping tablet, which was, in fact, an antihistamine," Mr Penny told the court.

He said that Glen had a "deep-seated" fear of flying, had a "reported" history of depression and that this was his first flight since moving to Australia almost two decades earlier.

"There are medical records in Australia and it would be in his best interests to obtain those," Mr Penny said.

"The offence with which he is charged is an offence of specific intent and details of his medical history could potentially be a relevant factor.

Agreeing to the adjournment, Judge Gratwicke told Glen: "Offences such as this quite rightly attract prison sentences. You can expect to receive a substantial sentence."

At an earlier hearing before magistrates, Vivienne Perry, prosecuting, had described Glen as "intoxicated" as he told a flight attendant that a fellow passenger, unknown to him, had a gun and had "threatened to blow himself up unless he was given £20,000".

Ms Perry said that the flight had been diverted at "considerable financial cost", including charges incurred from the military escort, additional fuel and the cost to other passengers who missed connecting flights from Heathrow.

"The whole incident caused considerable problems for passengers and members of the air crew," she added, although only the crew and the passenger accused of being a bomber were aware of the reasons for the diversion.

"After the captain was told of the threat, two RAF jet fighters were scrambled and escorted the aircraft to Stansted Airport where it landed safely.

"When he was interviewed, [Glen] admitted he made up the whole story and said he does not know why he did."

Glen, a bachelor, was sent to the crown court for sentencing after magistrates decided that their sentencing powers, which are restricted to a maximum six months in prison, were not sufficient.

dsapsted@thenational.ae