Magistrate jailed for building pipe bombs

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The Independent Online

A magistrate who built a cache of deadly pipe bombs, apparently as part of a plan to target his former girlfriend's new lover, was jailed for five years.

A magistrate who built a cache of deadly pipe bombs, apparently as part of a plan to target his former girlfriend's new lover, was jailed for five years.

Jonathan Wilkes, 40, a former justice of the peace in Oxfordshire, denied but was found guilty of building the eight remote-controlled and booby-trapped devices with intent to endanger life.

Forensic experts testified at Oxford Crown Court that they had never seen devices like the ones Wilkes had made. Three contained mercury-tilt switches to detonate on handling, turning them into deadly booby-traps that would disperse metal nuts over hundreds of yards.

The jury was told that Wilkes had begun an affair with Collette Cooper, 30, after they worked together at a car hire centre in Swindon, Wiltshire, in 1998 and while his French partner was working in Brussels for the European Parliament.

The couple embarked on a year-long relationship and travelled to the Bahamas, Paris and America and even appeared on a television holiday programme, Wish You Were Here.

But towards the end of 1999, Ms Cooper ended the relationship with Wilkes as she said he had become "suffocating" and "possessive". She then began a new relationship with Howard Davies, who she has since married. He was the alleged target of Wilkes's bombs, the court was told.

Ms Cooper told the jury that the defendant had begged her to return to him and bombarded her with hundreds of text and mobile phone messages.

Friends of Wilkes testified that the defendant had asked them in their local pub in Freeland, Oxfordshire, how to find a hit man to "get someone knocked off".

Simon Mayo, prosecuting, said: "He began harbouring feelings of extreme animosity to her new boyfriend."

Wilkes, a self-employed computer software expert earning more than £100,000 a year, was cleared of a further charge of possessing a single bomb with intent to endanger life, but was convicted of possession of the device. The bombs, water bottles packed with three kilos of metal nuts and described by the prosecution as "truly terrifying in their potential to maim or kill", were discovered in Syreford, Gloucestershire, and Freeland in August 2000 by members of the public.

Judge Peter Crawford QC, sentencing Wilkes, said: "You are a man of education and intelligence. The devices were specifically designed to maim and kill. Who was the intended victim nobody can know for sure. It is a sad day when the court has to sentence a justice of the peace for a crime of this gravity."

In his defence, Wilkes, who has five-year-old son, said he had made the bombs to commit suicide with after he was driven to despair by a blackmailer who had discovered his affair with a former work colleague. The jury dismissed his version of events.