The Historical Use of Bomb Threats and the Current Crime of Bomb Hoax in Australia

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Bomb threat

In this article we shall discuss the history of bomb hoaxes from earlier times including how governments also are not reticent from deploying such frightening tactics to serve their own aims. Further discussed is how this crime was particularly prevalent during periods such as the American civil rights marches, prior to and post the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

We shall see how schools subject to a policy of integration of pupils of all colours faced bomb threats from racist groups and how Australia’s First Nations people were subject to cultural conflict which involved cruelty to animals, namely the Brumby.

Then we will explore the millions of people worldwide who are affected physically and psychologically by the threat of possibly dying by this heinous crime if ever it was more than a hoax. Finally, advice will be given on what you should do if you receive a bomb threat.

History of bomb hoaxes

Whilst the first bomb was developed about the 11th century, it was much later in time that bomb hoaxes were used as weapons to disrupt and cause harm to society. 

One major event was after the American civil war was won freeing at least 4 million slaves in 1865 although then president Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Despite the 13th amendment to the American constitution abolishing slavery in 1865 domestic terrorism continued with the formation of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) also in 1865 by 6 defeated confederate officers. The KKK was a white supremacy racist group not only responsible for bomb hoaxes but also for perpetrating actual bombings. As the Klan evolved it included other ethnic groups.

Civil rights marches subject to bomb threats

The coloured community have suffered many thousands of such hoaxes via explosives as indeed have other minority groups. The Nashville Banner reported what Martin Luther King Jr. said when he hosted a civil-rights address in 1960, which was “No lie can live forever let us not despair the universe is with us” in response to a bomb hoax, a regular occurrence throughout the era of the civil-rights movement against colleges, universities and churches.

Qantas protected by Australian defence forces

Qantas Airlines, the Flying Kangaroo, in 1971 was subject to a frightening bomb hoax whilst the aircraft the subject of the hoax was in the air with 116 passengers and 12 flight crew on board. The plane had left Sydney only 45 minutes earlier on its way to Hong Kong when Mr  Brown (an alias) phoned Qantas house in Sydney. Military jets were scrambled to escort the plane with the Australian navy also alerted as a safeguard.

A ransom of half a million dollars was paid by Qantas with about half recovered in NSW after the arrest of the perpetrators with a significant portion of it recovered about two years later by a man unconnected to the crime when he was renovating his home.

NSW Police Heroine

The rise of heroes emanate from bomb hoaxes such as the case of the Sydney schoolgirl Madeline Pulver who was the victim of an Investment Banker who attached a fake bomb around the hapless girl’s neck in an extortion attempt in 2011. New South Wales Police Constable, Karen Lowden a true heroine believing the bomb was real was presented with the Star of Courage by the Government for staying with the victim for hours during the time which it took the Bomb Squad to remove the device.

The perpetrator, Paul Douglas Peters, received a sentence of imprisonment for 13 years.

Australian school bomb hoaxes in 2016

A total of just under 600 calls to schools throughout NSW – Victoria – Queensland – ACT and South Australia were made in early 2016 involving threats of bombs, school shootings and chemical attacks. The victims were children and adults, with hundreds of schools evacuated. In addition to all state police forces the investigation included the Australian federal police (AFP), Australian security intelligence organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Signals Directorate.

This resulted in the apprehension of the perpetrator who was an Israeli and American dual citizen who had been diagnosed as autistic as a child. However, he still received a term of imprisonment of 10 years.

Governments involved in bomb hoaxes

A more recent event on January 6th 2021 involved the purported insurrection at the United States Capitol Building in Washington DC during the inauguration of President Biden. In this incident the hoax involved non-existent Pipe Bombs allegedly planted at the Korean War Memorial.

May 23rd 2021 saw the United Nations civil aviation agency reveal that the country of Belarus issued a bomb hoax to force a Ryanair flight to land at Minsk airport, in order that an alleged dissident could be arrested.

Domestic terrorism & racism still exists

As reported by the American historical association as recently as 2022, 17 colleges and universities which historically cater to the black community were subject to bomb hoaxes in an act of domestic terrorism.

Royal Australian air force to the rescue again

Two telephone calls in late 2022 saw the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) scramble 2 F16C/D fighter Jets from NSW after a bomb hoaxer claimed that an explosive device was on a Singapore airlines flight. The jets safely escorted the commercial flight until it landed at Changi airport. The perpetrator was apprehended and prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions in the district court such is the seriousness of this crime.

NSW Snowy Mountains conflict

2022 in the normally serene countryside of the Snowy Mountains saw a recent bomb hoax in an ever-rising crime. This was aimed at the rangers who look after the Snowy Mountains and its wildlife involving the NSW brumby which is a horse which runs free as the wind and became the ‘totem’ in what became a hostile culture war and embroiled horse enthusiasts. 

It also featured some who harbour far-right conspiracy theories against the rangers enforcing the Government mandate of culling. Lining up with the Government were the conservationists and ecologists who believed the brumbies were destroying natural ecosystems and causing extinction of certain species. The catalyst for the bomb threat was the discovery by tourists who found 11 brumbies and a foal which had been slaughtered by bullets as a result of a government sanctioned cull. Tens of thousands of animal lovers joined the pro-brumby movement in a campaign of advocating the protection of the cruelty to animals legislation which according to this faction the government was determined to ignore and continue in its  cull.

First Nation Wiradjuri, Richard Swain the Indigenous alpine river guide endeavouring to overturn the Kosciuszko wild horse heritage Act enshrining the protection of feral brumbies in conjunction with James Trezise, conservation director of the ‘Invasive Species Council’ took the side of the Government and its cohorts in what was seen as an act of betrayal of the First Nations Peoples heritage.

Claim of RSPCA Corruption

As a result of an inspection of the 11 brumbies and the foal, the royal society of the prevention of cruelty to animals (RSPCA) said that the killing was in line with the government mandate leading to claims of corruption levelled at the RSPCA. Further claims of the slaughter of 200 other brumbies only served to escalate the frustration of the pro-brumby advocates.

Whilst the Kosciuszko wild horse heritage Act has a provision in it for culling in certain circumstances, the pro-brumby group say that with trapping and rehoming of excess brumbies, the culling is unnecessary.

Cruelty to Animals

Two decades earlier as result of bushfires and drought causing the starvation of the herd of wild horses, aerial culling had seemed a humane way until it was found that many horses had been maimed instead of killed. It appears to go further than that though. To many inhabitants in the alpine regions of Australia the brumby is claimed as a sacred part of Australia’s cultural heritage. This is partly as a result of the wild horse’s participation in World War 1 where they formed part of the Australian light horse brigade which served with distinction in the Middle East. 

An elder of the Yorta Yorta Indigenous People Monica Morgan is another First Nations Person who is pro-culling so as one can see this is a complex matter pitting two sets of culture protection against one another. Whilst debate rages over which one is more important it would seem that each are as important as the other. Perhaps the solution may be that more is required in the trapping and rehoming of the brumbies to keep the numbers in check. Even if that means rehoming in other countries which would be an expensive move but one that would preserve all of the endangered species including the precious lives of an icon as the brumby certainly is.

Reasons and Perpetrators

The reasons for the crime of claiming a bomb has been placed which is ready for detonation involves political, racial and religious ideology including revenge and extortion in addition to those suffering from psychosis amongst other psychological ailments.

Millions of Victims

Psychiatrists, Psychologists and Sociologists are among many health clinicians who attest to the incontrovertible mental and physical ailments associated with not only those directly affected by bomb hoaxes but also those who are impacted by being in the area of a bomb threat. Amongst the many physical and mental illnesses experienced is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is an unpredictable mental illness which unlike many other acute stress disorders increases in severity days, weeks or even years later. It is diagnosed after qualifying as such by the world-renowned DSM 5 criteria diagnosis and may require decades of treatment using a combination of medication and psychotherapy including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and prolonged exposure therapy (PET) amongst others.

Family break-ups and loss of employment including homelessness are not infrequent consequences amongst victims leading also to a significant cost to society in terms of impacting on the medical, police and court fraternities.

Australian and associated global clinical studies agree on the diagnosis of what psychological and psychiatric illnesses are suffered by those subjected to any violent threat including bomb hoaxes. The one which is the most comprehensive is a 2013 U.S. study published by the national library of medicine in relation to the Omagh bombing in 1998 where 31 people were killed including 15 children aged 17 years and under with just under 400 injured.

Penalties Associated With This Crime

In addition to significant penalties including substantial fines and years of imprisonment, Courts have the authority to order the convicted to pay restitution for the emergency services in all their forms which were involved in the event. This may amount to many hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions in some instances necessitating the sale of a perpetrator’s home and assets. This penalty differs in various global jurisdictions.

The Criminal Offence of Using a Carriage Service to Make a Bomb Threat 

Using a carriage service for a hoax threat is an offence under section 474.16 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

As it is contained in federal legislation, the offence applies in every state and territory across Australia.

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. You used a carriage service to send a communication, and
  2. You intended by doing so to induce a false belief that an explosive, or a dangerous or harmful substance or thing, has been or will be left in any place.

What is a ‘Carriage Service’?

A ‘carriage service’ is defined as, ‘a service for carrying communications by means of guided and/or unguided electromagnetic energy’.

The definition includes telephone calls, text messages and internet transmissions, such as emails and the use of social media sites.

What are the Defences to the Charge?

Legal defences to the charge of making a bomb threat include:

  1. Duress,
  2. Necessity, and
  3. Self-defence.

In the event you are able to raise evidence of one of a legal defence, the onus then shifts to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the offence does not apply.

If the prosecution is unable to do this, you are entitled to an acquittal, which means a verdict of not guilty.

What To Do Should You Receive a Bomb Threat?

The World Trade Centre alone throughout the decades has experienced close to 1,000 bomb threats. The procedure on each occasion is precisely the same and is what police advise anyone who receives a bomb threat to do.

By Telephone:

1. Endeavour to have the Emergency Services     contacted whilst still on the phone.

2. Arrange evacuation whilst on the phone.

3. Note any telephone number showing. 

4. Take as many notes of the conversation as     possible.

5. Try and recall accent of the caller.

By Email:

   1. Do not reply to the email.

   2. Do not forward the email to anyone.

   3. Arrange the evacuation of the building or area.

   4. Contact Police.

By Letter:

   1. Limit touching the letter.

   2. Contact Police.

Practically all jurisdictions the world over recommend a similar protocol should you receive  a bomb threat.

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David McCulloch

David McCulloch

David McCulloch has spent years assisting Australian prison inmates and immigration detainees, collaborated with management and academics to establish a Nordic-style recidivism reduction program, written extensively on the history of criminal law and the inequities that plague the criminal justice system and been involved in law-related podcasts and television programs.

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