A man whose hoax bomb call caused a primary school in Ballymena to be evacuated was given a suspended jail term.
Jozef Dotko (60), originally from Slovakia, of no fixed abode but who had been living with a relative in Ballymena, appeared at the town’s Magistrates Court on Wednesday.
Dotko pleaded guilty to falsely telling the PSNI a ‘bomb’ was present at Harryville Primary School which also has nursery and ‘nurture’ units.
He appeared from custody in handcuffs as a prosecutor said that on the morning of October 10 police received a 999 call from a mobile phone from a male who gave a name and alleged he “had an argument with the principal of Harryville Primary School and that he was going to blow up the school”.
The prosecutor said police located the man at Belfast International Airport and he admitted he made the call after “having a row with his nephew” who he had pretended to be and whose name he had given.
The prosecutor said the defendant alleged that the day before making the call his nephew had locked him out of the house they shared and that the defendant did not realise the consequences of making the call.
Defence barrister Chris Sherrard said Dotko had been living with his nephew in the Ballymena area and there had been a “breakdown in relations” and things escalated.
The lawyer said Dotko was diagnosed with a lung problem and after being at his “wit’s end” with the nephew and being at a “very low ebb” decided to return to Slovakia to get treatment.
Mr Sherrard said the defendant phoned the police and “tried to implicate” his nephew.
The court heard Dotko had acted in a very unsophisticated manner and it was accepted schoolchildren had to be removed from the school and “parents would have undergone extreme anxiety”.
Mr Sherrard said Dotko was “shell shocked” at the effect of his “highly irresponsible actions” which had “inconvenienced” a number of people.
The lawyer said the defendant realised he had been “incredibly stupid” and that he had to be punished.
The barrister said it was “baffling” that Dotko had done something so foolish and he realised that as the case involved a primary school it was “highly emotive” and a case which the court would treat seriously.
Mr Sherrard said the defendant had shown a “high degree of remorse” and asked the court to take into account his client’s clear record and guilty plea at the first opportunity.
District Judge Peter King asked if Dotko was still planning to leave and if he was then planning to return to Northern Ireland.
Mr Sherrard said the defendant had been out of work because of his health situation and had not decided yet whether he would stay in Slovakia where he had previously worked as a labourer and lost his job.
Judge King said he was imposing a five months prison term given the nature of the case but because the defendant was going to Slovakia for medical treatment he was suspending it for the maximum three years.
Added the judge: “Had this matter not been dealt with at the earliest possible opportunity and had you any criminal record I would not have been suspending this.”
He warned the defendant if he returns to Northern Ireland and there is any repeat he will be starting off with at least five months in jail.
After the court hearing, speaking at Harryville Primary School, which re-opened on Wednesday morning, Principal Lesley Meikle said: “I am glad that justice has been done. I am cross that he frightened my children and parents but I am happy that he realises the consequences of his actions”.
She said just eleven pupils present at a Breakfast Club had to be evacuated in Tuesday’s alert along with 20 members of staff.
She said the school had sent out texts to tell parents not to send their children to school on Tuesday and any children that did arrive were sent home.
Mrs Meikle said police had checked the school and it was secure. The school closed for the remainder of the day.
Mrs Meikle said the defendant had no known links to the school and added that the allegation of an ‘argument’ was untrue.
She said the hoax call had brought back memories of 2005 when a workman cutting a hedge at the school escaped injury when a pipe bomb fell at his feet but did not explode.
At the time police said the school wasn’t the target and condemned those who had stored the device near the school.
A PSNI spokesman said in 2005: “It was reckless in the extreme to abandon items of this nature close to a school, where they might have been found and handled by children.”