Bomb-scare air passenger is jailed

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The Independent Online

A car worker whose "idiotic" behaviour triggered a bomb scare on an airliner heading to Britain from the Middle East was given a three-year jail term today.

James Glen, 38, who was born in Ayr, Ayrshire, was told by a judge at Chelmsford Crown Court in Essex that he had caused a "serious threat" and subjected passengers to "gross" inconvenience.

Glen admitted "communicating information about a bomb hoax" on a flight with Etihad Airways - the national airline of the United Arab Emirates - heading from Abu Dhabi to Heathrow carrying 163 passengers and 15 crew on January 24.

Prosecutors said the alarm was raised and two military jets scrambled after Glen, who had been drinking whisky and beer, told a flight attendant that another passenger had a gun and had threatened to blow himself up.

RAF Typhoons were called in to accompany the plane, which was re-directed to Stansted, near Chelmsford.

The plane was flying on the day that 35 people - including British businessman Gordon Cousland - died in a suicide bomb attack at Moscow's busiest airport.

Glen had been living in Australia for 18 years and was returning to the UK to start a job as a panel-beater and car-sprayer in Chard, Somerset.

Duncan Penny, in mitigation, said Glen, who began his journey in Melbourne, had "consumed alcohol" and taken an anti-histamine drug.

Mr Penny said Glen was on his first flight for 20 years, had expressed a fear of flying and was tired.

Judge Charles Gratwicke said any air traveller guilty of such behaviour could expect a jail sentence.

Mark Lakin, prosecuting, said flight attendants noticed that Glen, who had been living in Melbourne, had drunk a "couple" of whiskies and beer and were "concerned" about him.

He said attendants "deliberately delayed" Glen's requests for more alcohol.

Mr Makin said Glen began having "strange" conversations with a nearby passenger, Ghazanfar Ali.

Glen demanded money - £200, then £10,000 then £20,000 - from Mr Ali.

He then become "agitated", asked to speak to the captain, and told a stewardess that Mr Ali had a gun, was demanding money, had a bomb and was threatening to blow up himself and the aircraft.

Mr Makin said Mr Ali was detained for "some time" by police and the plane was held at Stansted for four hours.

He said the flight attendant initially dealing with Glen - Ouafa Khennouf - was inexperienced and on her second flight as a stewardess.

Mr Makin said flight attendants were "sanguine" in their dealings with Glen, which was a testament to their training.

When interviewed by police, Glen initially said he had been "threatened" before changing his mind and admitting that his allegations about the gun and bomb were false.

Mr Makin said the airline estimated that the incident cost more than £17,000 in excess fuel, passenger handling charges and passenger compensation.

Mr Penny said Glen was of good character, had been returning to start a new life in the UK, and his "idiotic" behaviour was "entirely out of character".

"It is plainly a very strange incident," said Mr Penny. "He simply cannot remember what took place. Clearly, something was said."

Mr Penny added: "Frankly, he is appalled at himself and cannot understand how it came to pass."

Judge Gratwicke said passengers did not hear what Glen said but authorities had treated the incident seriously.

"Travellers are entitled to expect their fellow passengers to behave properly," said the judge. "Any threat on an aircraft in flight is serious."

He added: "The other passengers, in particular the unfortunate Mr Ali, were grossly inconvenienced."

The judge warned that travellers guilty of such offences could expect "substantial" punishments.