Glengormley student to stand trial over US hoax bomb warnings

Ben Megarry leaving Laganside Court. Pic by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Ben Megarry leaving Laganside Court. Pic by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

A judge has ordered that a student from Glengormley is to stand trial accused of hoax bomb warnings at major US airports and the scene of a previous high school gun massacre,

Ben Megarry, 19, appeared before Belfast Magistrates’ Court to face 23 charges over an alleged campaign targeting landmark buildings and iconic locations across America.

The teenager from Harmin Park is accused of claiming a bomb had been planted at Columbine High School in Colorado where, in 1999, two students murdered 13 people.

Threats were also allegedly directed at three international airports: JFK in New York, LAX in Los Angeles, and Kansas City.

A baseball stadium in Kansas and the famous Mann’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard are among other locations where hoax bomb warnings were directed, according to the case against him.

Further charges involve false threats about schools in Texas and California, a County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, a Walmart store in Missouri, Central Avenue in Cheyanne, and Ambassador Bridge, Detroit.

Mr Megarry, who has autism, was 15 at the time of the alleged offences. They are said to have been committed over a six-month period in 2012.

The case was referred to the Police Service of Northern Ireland following an investigation by US authorities.

He entered the dock for the first time yesterday to face 23 counts of communicating false information causing belief of explosives.

He was accompanied by a representative from the National Autistic Society throughout the hearing.

Asked if he understood the charges against him, the teenager nodded and replied: “Yes.”

His lawyers did not contest prosecution submissions that a prima facie case had been established.

With no witnesses called or evidence given by the defendant at this stage, District Judge Liam McNally granted an application to have him returned for trial at Belfast Crown Court.

He released Mr Megarry on continuing bail until those proceedings get underway, on a date to be fixed.

Defence counsel Luke Curran told the court the prosecution was “novel and voluminous”.

He added: “The case itself is a complex one, involving multi agencies and FBI witnesses.”

Judge McNally acknowledged the unusual aspects.

“I certainly haven’t come across this type of case where someone in Northern Irelandf is allegedly making these types of calls to schools in America.”