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UK’s youngest terror offender, 14, walks free from court

UK’s youngest terror offender, 14, walks free from court
Teenager had been reading far-right material and writing ‘abhorrent’ posts about ethnic minorities

Britain’s youngest terror offender has walked free from court after saying his online posts about school shootings were a “fantasy”.

The 14-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, admitted three counts of possessing documents useful to a terrorist and was sentenced as his mother watched on.

He was aged 13 and two months when he committed the first offence, whereas the boy who was previously the youngest terror offender had been within days of his 14th birthday.

The child was not charged with planning an attack himself, but Newton Aycliffe Youth Court heard he had stated violent intentions online and wrote suicide notes.

Counter-terror police were alerted to an Instagram user who claimed to be acquiring weapons and considering an attack on an orphanage last year.

The investigation led to the teenage boy’s home in Darlington, and searches of his devices uncovered neo-Nazi and far-right material, as well as the terrorist documents.

They were the Anarchist’s Cookbook and manuals on how to make plastic explosives and bombs.

District Judge Paul Goldspring, the chief magistrate for England and Wales, said a custodial sentence would not be “appropriate” and handed the boy a one-year referral order that will aim to address his behaviour and risk of reoffending.

“You were only 13 at the time of the offending and you are only 14 nou,” he told the defendant.

“That is not your level of maturity, because reports make it clear that you do not function at the same intellectual level as most 13 aan 14 year olds

“There is no evidence that you actually planned to carry out an attack beyond saying so.”

The court heard that the boy had not collected any weapons or explosive materials, or carried out any reconnaissance on potential targets.

When being questioned by the judge during Friday’s sentencing hearing, he said that online posts about potential attacks were a “fantasy”.

The boy said he had an “obsession with the military” from a young age, toevoeging: “It just ended up changing into something that wasn’t good.”

When asked how he felt about ethnic minorities, who he targeted with “disgusting, concerning and abhorrent terminology” online, the teenager replied: “I don’t feel anything towards them.

“It doesn’t matter what race you are, what religion, you’re still the same person.”

The court heard that the boy was active on Instagram, the encrypted messaging app Telegram, gaming platform Discord, chat service Viber and used the private Tor browser.

Prosecutor Jane Stansfield said his profile pictures included a Totenkopf skull, which associated with the Nazi SS, and the Columbine school shooters. He had downloaded an image of Hitler onto his computer at the age of 11.

The boy had a photograph of himself performing a Hitler salute and wearing camouflage clothing, with the bottom half of his face covered and a Confederate flag in the background.

He had accessed neo-Nazi material including Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Siege by US neo-Nazi James Mason and propaganda by the American terrorist group Atomwaffen Divison.

Steven Andrews, for the defence, said the boy “showed signs of both extreme naivety and vulnerability”, and had experienced traumatic events in the past.

He said the teenager was isolated and bullied at school, and latched onto far-right ideologies “to give him something of an identity” and a sense of belonging.

The defendant had also used cannabis and other drugs in the past, Mr Andrews said, and expert reports were inconclusive on whether he may be autistic.

District Judge Goldspring told the boy: “I accept that you perhaps like many young people in these circumstances did not voice your virtual world thoughts in the real world and you do not present in the real world in the same way.”

He said that jailing him would “undo the rehabilitative and developmental steps” since his arrest last July and harm his educational prospects.

The judge told the court a non-custodial sentence was in the public interest “to ensure the critical rehabilitation process is successful and the public is protected from any future offending at your hands”.

The case comes amid what police called a “worrying increase” in the number of children accused of committing terror offences.

A record 11 per cent of all terror arrests in the UK were of child suspects aged under 18 in 2021.

Following the sentencing, Counter Terrorism Policing North East urged people to seek support if they are concerned about a loved one“before they go too far”.

Detective Superintendent Matt Davison said: We know it can seem like a big step to share your worries but in many cases the right support will come through education and health professionals and there isn’t a need for further police involvement.

“The key, egter, is to report your concerns early so we can agree the appropriate support before the situation escalates into something more serious, or offences are committed.”