Durham man sentenced for hoax calls to US police

|News, Cyber / online crime

An 18-year-old man who caused havoc in the US by sending threatening email messages to various police departments when he was just 16 years old has been sentenced today at Durham Crown Court.

Connor Ash, 18, of Hawthorn Terrace, Stanley pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to three charges of making an electronic communication with intent to cause distress and anxiety and a further charge of making threats to kill.

He was sentenced to 16 months' imprisonment, suspended for two years.

Ash worked with others in an online gang, known as ‘The Goon Squad,’ to carry out a campaign of hoaxes across the US. The charges against him were brought in relation to a series of emails sent in 2017 in which Ash claimed to be armed with an assault rifle and holding hostages, who he claimed he would kill if police did not meet his demands for money. He also claimed in one email to be approaching a police station, heavily armed, with the intent of killing officers.

The gang’s hoaxes targeted places where large numbers of people were gathered, including schools, an airport and a hypermarket. In police interview, Ash claimed that some pupils had encouraged them online to target their own schools simply to get them out of lessons. He also helped to arrange ‘swatting’ attacks, whereby hoax calls would see armed response units turn up at the homes of innocent civilians.

Diane Spence of the CPS, said: “From behind a computer in his father’s home, Connor Ash made serious threats to US police departments between February and October of 2017. Amid a wave of gun violence in the US, these threats were seen as both serious and credible by law enforcement agencies.

“Connor Ash committed these offences, at least in part, for his own amusement and showed little regard for the terrifying consequences that his actions would create. One parent described hearing about a potential attack on their child’s school and being so afraid that she drove to the school in tears in an effort to find her child.

“In one chilling email, sent in March of 2017, he also contacted a US detective who was investigating his offending, threatening to kill the detective and his family. Those threats were again taken seriously and it is difficult to imagine the fear that they must have instilled.

“The Crown Prosecution Service has worked closely with Durham Constabulary our US justice colleagues, drawing on comprehensive digital forensic evidence to build a robust case against him.

“I sincerely hope that this case serves as an ample demonstration that, where digital communications are exploited for criminal purposes, the trail that you leave will inevitably lead the criminal justice system to your front door.”

Notes to editors

  • Diane Spence is a Senior Crown Prosecutor with CPS North East
  • Connor Ash was sentenced to:
    • 16 months on each count, concurrent to each other, suspended for two years
    • 300 hours unpaid work
    • 50 Rehabilitation Activity Requirement days
    • curfew 7pm-7am for three months, electronically monitored
    • undertake supervision (from Probation) as directed

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