An autistic 20-year-old who’d been interested in bomb making for a decade because it was “something to do when I was bored” has been jailed for planting a homemade explosive device on a Jubilee line train. Student Damon Smith of Rotherhithe was sentenced to 15 years in a young offender institution with an extended period of five years on licence after being fond guilty of possession of an explosive substance with intent, contrary to the 1883 Explosive Substances Act.
He had pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of perpetrating a bomb hoax, claiming the device he’d made was a smoke bomb and only intended to stop the train “for a bit of fun” but was found guilty of the more serious offence on May 3.
The court heard how he had built the rucksack bomb, which was filled with ball bearing shrapnel, using a £2 clock from Tesco as a timer after reading an article titled How To Build A Bomb In The Kitchen Of Your Mum on a website liked to al-Qaida.
He smiled at judge Richard Marks QC from the dock at the Old Bailey on Friday, May 26, as his sentence was delivered.
Sentencing him, Marks said: “Quite what your motives were and what your true thinking was in acting as you did is difficult to discern with any degree of clarity or certainty.
“Whatever the position, the seriousness of what you did cannot be overstated, not least against the background of the fear in which we all live from the use of bombs here and around the world, an all too timely reminder of which were the events in Manchester earlier this week.”
Smith, who has Asperger syndrome, was shown to have a keen interest in weapons, possibly connected to his condition. The jury also heard he had and interest in gambling and Islam as well as extremists, who he had collected photos of including the ringleader of the 2015 Paris attacks.
Leaving the bomb on the train, he was captured on camera carrying a holdall as he entered Surrey Quays station shortly after 10.30am on October 20.
From there he caught a London Overground train to Canada Water, before switching to a westbound Jubilee line train.
He got off that train and Southwark, before taking another Jubilee line train in the direction he had just come in.
Smith left the train at London Bridge. A passenger saw the abandoned bag and reported it to the driver at Canary Wharf who initially thought it was lost property but raised the alarm after seeing wires and a clock.
A rucksack, being carried inside in the holdall, contained deadly ball-bearing shrapnel due to be triggered by a £2 Tesco clock timer.
At 11am, North Greenwich station was evacuated. The device had been set to detonate at 11.02am.
Smith was Tasered and arrested in north London the following day. A search of his former home in Newton Abbot, Devon, revealed another possible homemade bomb hidden in the attic.
Smith’s home in Rotherhithe, south-east London, where he had moved with his mother after starting university, yielded a blank-firing, self-loading pistol and a BB gun, both bought legally, as well as a knuckleduster and a knife he’d shown off in an online video.
Smith’s barrister, Richard Carey-Hughes QC, said in mitigation: “This is a difficult climate to ask for mercy for someone convicted of this type of offence.
“Nevertheless, we do so and we invite my lord to extend mercy. This case is different. It seems unique and so is this young man.”
In his defence, extracts of a psychiatric report were read confirming his autism.
The court heard Smith had been interested in bomb making since the age of 10 and said it was “something to do when he was bored”.
But Marks concluded Smith was a dangerous offender.
He said: “I am influenced by your history of preoccupation with weapons and bombs, as well as by your condition, which makes it difficult for you to empathise with others and to understand and fully appreciate the very serious potential consequences of your actions, as this incident amply demonstrates.”
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