Teenager inspired by Colombine massacre jailed after bomb hoax emails sent to Yorkshire schools

George Duke-Cohan.
George Duke-Cohan.

A teenager inspired by the Columbine High School massacre has been jailed after making bogus bomb threats to hundreds of UK schools, including some in Yorkshire, and sparking an airport security scare.

George Duke-Cohan twice targeted schools in the UK and US with hoax messages that triggered evacuations, before phoning in a fake report of a hijacked aircraft while under investigation.

The 19-year-old, of Watford, emailed Marlborough College - the Wiltshire school attended by the Duchess of Cambridge - and referred to the Columbine High School shooting.

NCA investigation continues after hoax emails closed schools in Yorkshire today

He was jailed for three years by Judge Richard Foster at Luton Crown Court yesterday.

The Recorder of Luton told him: “You knew exactly what you were doing and why you were doing it, and you knew full well the havoc that would follow.

“You were playing a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities.

“You were playing a game for your own perverted sense of fun in full knowledge of the consequences.”

In his sentencing remarks, the judge added: “The scale of what you did was enormous.

“Schools were evacuated and, where they were not, those in charge had to take agonising decisions.”

The teenager appeared from custody wearing a grey jumper with a navy collar.

He pleaded guilty to three counts of making hoax bomb threats in September.

Duke-Cohan, who was doing an IT course, first created panic in March 2018 when he emailed thousands of schools in the UK warning about an explosive.

The National Crime Agency said more than 400 schools were evacuated as a result.

Humberside Police said at the time that 19 schools in East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire had received the email, while a North Yorkshire Police spokesman said it had also had a number of reports about the bomb hoax.

Prosecutor Rebecca Austin said he sent emails to more than 1,700 schools in the UK between March 16 and 19 this year.

The emails threatened to set off an explosive device if payment was not made.

Police arrested Duke-Cohan days later, but he was able to send another batch of emails to schools in the US and UK while under investigation in April.

The court heard that Marlborough College was targeted on April 13 by what was referred to as the “Apophis Squad” hoax emails.

Ms Austin said it was “clear” that Duke-Cohan used the influence of the Columbine attack of 1999 to add “authenticity”.

Duke-Cohan was arrested for a second time and released on pre-charge bail with conditions that he did not use electronic devices.

Before long his name was in the frame for a third hoax, regarding a bogus tip-off that hijackers had taken over a United Airlines flight from Heathrow to San Francisco, California.

Detectives found that Duke-Cohan had made the calls to San Francisco Airport and its police force while he was on pre-charge bail for the two previous offences.

He was arrested for a third time at his home in Mutchetts Close, Watford, on August 31 this year. The teenager was sentenced to one year for the emails sent to schools and two years for the airport security scare.

The judge said that, for the purposes of sentencing, he accepted that Duke-Cohan has autism spectrum disorder.

Anya Lewis, mitigating for Duke-Cohan, described him as “vulnerable” and “remorseful”.