Boy admits sending caustic face rub to Cherie Blair

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The Independent Online

A schoolboy pleaded guilty yesterday to sending a bottle of face-rub contaminated with caustic soda to Cherie Blair, and causing a national terror alert with a string of hoax anthrax attacks.

Paul Smith, 17, told the High Court in Glasgow he had been recruited by a mystery man on the internet to send letters and packages with a powder purporting to be anthrax or the deadly poison ricin, to Establishment targets between August 2001 and October last year.

Among his victims were Downing Street, the Scottish Parliament, the House of Commons, various police forces, local authority offices, luxury hotels, officials at St Andrews University and Prince William.

Kevin McCallum, for the prosecution, told of the fear and terror of some victims who breathed in powder, and of the chaos when scores of people had to be decontaminated and buildings evacuated. Smith, a pupil at Dumbarton Academy, admitted preparing and sending eight anthrax letters and 36 ricin letters and committing a breach of the peace.

He also admitted sending two packages to Cherie Blair and Margaret Ashcroft, treasurer of the West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Liberal Democrat constituency party.

The package for Mrs Blair held a bottle of aromatherapy oil laced with corrosive caustic soda and a letter urging her to "generously" rub the oil into her hands and face. That would have caused severe burns. Police traced the bottle to a health food shop in Dumbarton.

Mr McCallum said the mastermind behind the campaign had not been Smith but another man, whom he did not name, who sent the pupil instructions by e-mail. He said Smith had never met the man behind the campaign, which started when Prince William began a history of art course at St Andrews.

The university had been plagued with thousands of e-mails proclaiming "English out of Scotland," and "Down with the English Prince" as well as threats.

One letter to Prince William said it held ricin, the world's most deadly toxin, adding: "If you smell or touch it you will die." Another, to the history of art department, contained a skull and crossbones with a message reading: "By the time you read this letter you will not be able to breathe and will be suffering respiratory failure." The powders were found to be harmless.

Police managed to recover computer evidence from the shadowy figure behind the campaign and extensive e-mails led them to Smith, who was then 16. After they searched his home and checked his computer, he confessed, saying he had been recruited by the older person on the internet.

"This person had instigated a campaign directed against His Royal Highness Prince William and his attendance at the Scottish university," Mr McCallum said.

Smith, a first offender, was released on bail pending reports and his sentence was deferred until October.