A traveller who made bomb threats against an airline four months after they lost luggage he needed to get married in Morocco has been jailed.
Adhnan Khalid was due to tie the knot in the north African country in 2019 but was forced to cancel the wedding as vital documentation was inside his missing bag.
Counter terrorism police were alerted after an enraged Khalid posted messages on the company’s Facebook page, hinting explosive devices might be on board some of their planes leaving Spain.
Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court heard previously the airline – Spanish operator Vueling – had already offered him nearly £300 in compensation but he still felt aggrieved.
Khalid, of Wellsley Road in Buckhaven, appeared in court for sentencing on Friday and was jailed for seven months and 20 days by Sheriff Timothy Niven-Smith.
The sheriff told Khalid his case should have been indicted for sheriff and jury proceedings, meaning a higher maximum prison sentence would have been available.
He said the prosecutor dealing with it had “erred” in the decision to reduce it to a summary matter.
The sheriff told Khalid: “These (Facebook) posts were visible to members of the public for about 40 to 45 minutes and could have caused significant fear and alarm to anyone who happened to go on to check the progress of a flight their loved ones were on.
“I consider your actions could have caused significant fear and alarm of the most extreme type.”
The court heard previously Khalid, 37, travelled to Tangier via Barcelona with Vueling and his luggage was lost in transit.
Khalid complained and was awarded £277 but believed the inconvenience and cost he had incurred buying replacement items was far greater.
In the following weeks he sent messages via Facebook and email about receiving his luggage and compensation, none of which were threatening or abusive.
However, fiscal depute Xander van der Scheer said, on the morning of January 31, 2020, a post by a Facebook profile in the name of the accused appeared on the Facebook wall of Vueling airlines.
It read: “U hope you find the bombs that have been set on Vueling flights going out of Spain.
“Good luck, you will need it. I was told next week it will be a flight from France.”
At about 10.05am another post was made which said: “Interesting how Vueling ignores information about health and safety of crew and passengers. Do not fly with Vueling or Iberia”.
When a security manager saw the posts, he hid them from public view to avoid causing alarm and contacted the UK Border Force at Gatwick airport as he believed the accused was a British citizen.
The information was passed to Police Scotland’s counter terrorism department, which determined there was no credible threat.
Crown ‘made error’
Khalid admitted behaving in a threatening and abusive manner by posting the messages on Vueling’s Facebook wall on January 31, 2020.
Sheriff Niven-Smith told first offender Khalid he would have had power to sentence him to a maximum prison term of five years rather than a year if he had faced solemn (more serious) proceedings.
He said, after carrying out the “most basic rudimentary research,” he would consider the most appropriate sentencing range as between 18 months and three years.
He cited one person in 2002 who was sentenced to three years in prison for telling police that he had put 8kg of Semtex inside a nightclub.
Sheriff Niven-Smith said the hoaxer in that case had made the call immediately in anger, whereas Khalid’s flight was in October 2019 – four months before he committed his threatening post, which he viewed as an aggravating factor.
The sheriff said: “This is a matter which festered in the mind of the accused.”
Sheriff Niven-Smith also referenced two other cases, including bomb hoaxer Rodney Peasley, who told a school in Cornwall there were explosive devices inside which would detonate randomly.
The sheriff added: “Cases like this serve to underline to me that the Crown erred in reducing this to summary and an appropriate sentence to deter others could only be imposed under solemn (proceedings).”
No previous convictions
Defence lawyer David Bell said Khalid “does express remorse” for his actions and stressed his client, who has since managed to get married, had pled guilty at an early stage and had no previous convictions.
He said his client had made enquiries online and believed others who experienced similar problems with lost luggage had been better compensated.
The solicitor also explained Khalid, who had been working temporarily in a takeaway, had been assisting his wife to find employment in Scotland as she had only moved here in February this year.
He said his client is also someone who leads a “pro social and leisure life” and is involved in a cricket club.