(Don’t) Get me to the church on time – Neil McArdle jailed for bomb hoax

Facts

Neil McArdle (36) was so in love with Amy Williams (29) that he asked her to marry him. She agreed, they had a fairytale wedding (actually at the Registry Office in St George’s Hall in Liverpool) and then they lived happily ever after.

At least, that was the plan. As anyone who has got married can testify, weddings can be a bit stressful. There are so many things to organise, people to invite, suits to buy, etc, and it’s easy to forget something.

On 23rd April 2013, there was less than 24 hours till they were due to wed, when Mr McArdle realised that he hadn’t completed and sent in the paperwork to actually book the venue. That’s a position no man wants to be in, it’s hard to see any way round it.

Mr McArdle did the only thing he could think of – on the morning of the wedding he slipped out to a phonebox on his road and phoned in a bomb threat to the venue, saying “There’s a bomb in St George’s Hall and it will go off in 45 minutes“.

As a result of this, when the wedding party got to the Registry Office, they found it being evacuated. Job done. Sort of. After a few hours when the venue re-opened, the bride to be discovered the fact that she was not booked in to get married that day, and the deception unravelled.

Mr McArdle was arrested later that day and made full admissions to the police, pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity.

Sentence

Mr McArdle was sentenced to 12 months immediate imprisonment on 22nd October 2013.

The Judge said that it was an ‘extremely serious’ matter with (immediate) custody ‘the only fitting option’.

The Law

The offence is one under s51(2) Criminal Law Act 1971 – “A person who communicates any information which he knows or believes to be false to another person with the intention of inducing in him or any other person a false belief that a bomb or other thing liable to explode or ignite is present in any place or location whatever is guilty of an offence.

The offence is an either way one, with the maximum sentence being seven years. There are no Sentencing Guidelines, or guideline cases. As the CPS guidance correctly says (quoting Archbold), this offence is normally met with an immediate custodial sentence in the range of 1-2 years (see Cook [2006] EWCA Crim 780 and Philipson [2008] EWCA Crim 1019 for some guidance).

The offence is taken so seriously because of the widespread disruption and fear that it can cause. This was clearly a stupid thing for Mr McArdle to have done, but it was not motivated by malice or an intention to cause harm or fear, but a slightly desperate action (which was doomed to fail).

I imagine that Mr McArdle will appeal (as there’s very little to lose). It may that, in all the circumstances (early guilty plea, genuine remorse and no malicious reasons) the Court of Appeal would reduce the sentence to 6 months immediate custody which, to my mind, would have been sufficient to mark the criminality.

Happily Ever After?

Mr McArdle and Ms Williams are, happily, still together, although they have yet to set a new date for the wedding. If they do, I imagine that Mr McArdle will be checking the paperwork carefully. Being a Best Man can often be a tricky task, at least this one will have plenty of material for his speech.

The Registry Office at St George’s Hall

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