A woman who made more than 50 hoax bomb calls narrowly escaped going to jail but was ordered to spend two years on probation instead.
Freeing 44-year-old Joanne Elizabeth Mitchell at Antrim Crown Court having taking what he said was “an exceptionally lenient course,” Judge Desmond Marrinan told her that had if it had not been for her ‘significant mental health issues’ he would have sent her to prison for up to 18 months.
“You are putting people’s lives at risk by diverting vital police resources,” said the judge.
In addition to the probation order, the judge also imposed a 30 month Anti-social Behaviour Order which bars Mitchell from owing or using any device which has internet access or wifi capability.
“I hope you take his chance I’m offering you because if you come back before me you will be going to prison for 18 months at least,” warned Judge Marrinan.
Mitchell, from Greenview Avenue in Antrim, had earlier pleaded guilty to two counts of causing bomb hoaxes by communicating information she knew to be false to Crimestoppers which caused a “false belief that a bomb or other thing liable to explode or ignite” on 17 February and 25 September last year.
Opening the facts, prosecuting lawyer Michael Chambers said while there were single counts on two separate bills of indictment, there were also “well over 50 counts of her doing the same thing” to be “taken into consideration.”
He told the court that on 17 February the police received a report from Crimestoppers that there was a bomb on the Dublin Road in the town, adding that the supposed site was “about 150 yards from the defendants home.”
Police enquiries led them to Mitchell and although she initially denied making the hoax call, her IPad was seized and when it was examined, they discovered she had used it to make an internet call to the charity.
When that evidence was put to her, Mitchell admitted that incident along with “a large number of other” similar incidents.
Dealing with the incident last October, Suzanne Gallagher for the prosecution outlined how on that occasion, two calls were made in quick succession at 4am claiming there was a bomb and then “shots fired” at Mitchell’s home with the caller even giving the name of “Joanne Mitchell.”
Similarly to the other case Mitchell initially denied she was the caller but when other evidence was put to her she confessed.
Ms Gallagher revealed that Mitchell was in breach of two suspended sentences arising from other incidents in Belfast and Enniskillen, adding that the large majority of the entries on her eight page criminal record were for causing bomb hoaxes.
Submitting that Mitchell’s offences while serious “were not the most difficult to investigate,” defence barrister Richard McConkey said the best way describe them were unsophisticated, “a waste of time and a waste of money.”
He said Mitchell had spent a “very long eight weeks” on remand before getting bail, adding that while in prison “she was subjected to significant bullying” but that since her release, Mitchell is receiving therapeutic care from mental health services.
“If she’s put back into custody it may do more harm than good as it would cost the public purse to keep her there and would interrupt the help she’s getting which will hopefully break the offending cycle,” argued the lawyer.
Imposing the probation and ASBO, Judge Marrinan said it was clear that Mitchell suffered from mental health difficulties and that while “I don’t hold a large degree of hope” that the help she’s getting will see the end of her offending, “I think the best thing from societies point of view would be if you undergo a period on probation.”
Even with those mental difficulties the judge told Mitchell in no uncertain terms that if she reoffended or breached the orders “I will have to send you to prison because the police have limited resources and its vitally important for them to be able to get to the scenes of real crimes.”