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Man admits he posted bogus e-mails to relatives of missing

A father of two admitted yesterday that he sent a string of hoax e-mails to friends and relatives of people missing following the Asian tsunami.

Christopher Pierson, 40, from Ruskington, Lincolnshire, sent 35 e-mails to relatives after they posted their details on the Sky News website.

He pleaded guilty at Horseferry Road magistrates' court in London yesterday to a charge of causing a public nuisance and a charge under Section 1 of the Malicious Comm- unications Act.

Olive Assien, for the prosecution, told the court the e-mails purported to be from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Thailand and told people their loved ones were dead.

She said Sky had received three queries in relation to the false e-mails. Inquiries were made with AOL and Pierson was arrested. A number of AOL e-mail accounts were found, including the one used to e-mail stricken relatives. When interviewed by police, he admitted being online in the early hours of New Year's Eve but had "no knowledge" of the e-mails.

Ms Assien added that he was in a period of "personal crisis" and was apparently visibly upset during his interview.

After the hearing, Pierson blamed personal tragedy for his actions. He said in a statement: "I apologise to everyone I have hurt. I lost my son in 1991. My eldest son, for whom I am full-time carer, nearly died on 21 December. My uncle died on 20 December. I know this was a moment of madness, but I believe it was a cry for help."

District Judge Daphne Wickham said she would not grant bail because there was a "question of his own welfare" and given his emotional disturbance, there must be the likelihood of Pierson committing further offences.

He was remanded in custody until 24 January when he will appear before Bow Street magistrates in central London.

¿ A collection box for victims of the tsunami was stolen from Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire between 6pm and 10pm on Sunday night. It was later found abandoned and empty in an underpass. Police are appealing for witnesses.