Man who caused bomb scare with 'sinister' art installation on landmark bridge is spared jail

Picture via North News
Picture via North News

A man who caused a bomb alert when he attached a piece of "art" to a North East bridge has been spared jail.

Thomas Ellison fixed the "sinister" item, which was made out of a clear plastic box, a doll and a metal cylinder with wires sticking out of it, on the High Level Bridge in Newcastle.

Newcastle Crown Court heard how the 33-year-old regraded the device as a piece of art and did not realise it may cause alarm and fear of a terrorist attack.

The bridge was closed for two hours on August 15, 2017 after members of the public contacted the police about the item and the emergency services were called to the scene.

The court heard how the closure caused major disruption to the rail service, motorists, cyclists and people walking across the bridge on foot, two months after the London Bridge terror attack.

Michael Bunch, prosecuting, told the court how the incident cost the public almost £3,500, which included compensation to the train service.

Mr Bunch said: "The incident dates to August of 2017 and relates to an item placed on to the High Level bridge by this defendant.

"That item effectively was a clear plastic box containing a doll together with some wiring."

Mr Bunch told the court how the item was fixed onto the bridge, between Gateshead and Newcastle, with cable ties.

He said: "A number of individuals had noticed the item on August 14 while they were using the bridge. Their reactions had been varied."

Mr Bunch said some people viewed it as a piece of art while others found it had a "more sinister" effect.

He said police were alerted to the item the following day after a phone call from a member of the public.

Mr Bunch said: "That put into effect a significant response both from the police and other emergency services.

"A specially trained dog concluded the item wasn't a sinister item and the bridge reopened after a period of two hours or so."

Mr Bunch told the court how Ellison became aware of the publicity around the item and made contact with the police himself.

He said: "His initial request in having identified the item there was asking for it to be returned to him."

Mr Bunch said police searched his address and discovered other unusual items of a similar nature.

He told the court: "He (Ellison) accepted he placed the item there and said that in his view it was a work of art rather than something more significant than that."

Ellison, of Brighton Grove, Fenham, Newcastle, admitted had been charged with making a bomb hoax but prosecutors accepted his guilty plea to causing a public nuisance, entered on the basis that at the time he did not think it would be treated as a suspicious device.

Brian Hegarty told the court that Ellison created the item after seeing similar pieces of art in other European countries, particularly Prague in the Czech Republic.

He said that the metal cylinder on the device was a whisk handle with the original wires that connected it.

Mr Hegarty said: "It just simply did not occur to him and it's the last thing he would have wanted to cause any disruption as a consequence of what he did.

"This was created by him to be a piece of art. It's something he spent a significant amount of time over. When the police attended his home address they discovered a lot of material used by this defendant for similar pieces of art."

Mr Hegarty told the court how Ellison hopes to teach English as a foreign language and has already began the process of teaching non-English speakers English.

Judge Edward Bindloss told Ellison: "This was an ill thought out and naive act, certainly in the climate of the time, that caused a public nuisance.

"I accept that it did not occur to you that it would be regarded as a suspicious item.

"But through naivety and recklessness that's exactly what happened. There was cost to the public purse of over £3,000.

"You have expressed genuine remorse about the inconvenience you have caused."

Judge Bindloss sentenced him to a six month community order and ordered him to complete 90 days on unpaid work.

Detective Constable Kim Day, of Northumbria Police, said: "Ellison placed what looked like a very realistic device on a major bridge just two months after the London Bridge terror attacks.

"It is incomprehensible that he would not have understood the impact his actions would have had on the immediate area.

"Not only did it cause a lot of concern among members of the public but it led to a huge response from emergency services and bomb disposal experts.

"That all comes at a cost to the taxpayer and, at best, his actions were completely irresponsible.

"If people have a burning desire to become the next Michelangelo then we would encourage them to use a bit of common sense.

"Think about the impact that it may have on the local community and seek permission from the relevant authorities if you want to display it in a public place."

Picture via North News

Picture via North News

Picture via North News

Picture via North News