Teenager who made hoax United Airlines and school bomb threats is jailed

Teenager who made hoax bomb threats to a United Airlines flight and thousands of British schools that led to 400 of them being evacuated is jailed for three years

  • George Duke-Cohan, 19, has been jailed for three years at Luton Crown Court  
  • Duke-Cohan’s hoax calls left more than 400 schools evacuating pupils 
  • While under investigation, he claimed bombs were planted at US and UK sites
  • He posed as a worried father to tell airport that gunmen had taken over plane

An autistic teenager who sat in his bedroom at home bombarding more than 1,700 schools with hoax bomb threats has been jailed for three years.  

George Duke-Cohan twice targeted schools in the UK and US with hoax messages, and caused havoc when he posed as a worried father claiming his daughter was supposedly on a flight from Heathrow with four gunmen armed with a bomb.  

The 19-year-old, from Watford, pleaded guilty in September to three counts of making hoax bomb threat and was sentenced today at Luton Crown Court. 

George Duke-Cohan, 19, has been jailed for three years at Luton Crown Court after making bogus bomb threats to hundreds of UK schools and sparking an airport security scare. The teen, pictured during his arrest this year, forced the evacuation of 400 schools through hoaxes

George Duke-Cohan, 19, has been jailed for three years at Luton Crown Court after making bogus bomb threats to hundreds of UK schools and sparking an airport security scare. The teen, pictured during his arrest this year, forced the evacuation of 400 schools through hoaxes

Jailing Duke-Cohan for three years, Judge Richard Foster said: ‘You knew exactly what you were doing and why you were doing it, and you knew full well the havoc that would follow.

‘You were playing a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities. You were playing a game for your own perverted sense of fun in full knowledge of the consequences.’ 

Duke-Cohan stood nervously and fumbled with his pullover sleeves as he was sentenced to three years imprisonment.  

Judge Foster continued:  What you did was far removed from anything that could be described as naivety or a cry for help from a sick person. 

‘The scale of what you did was enormous. Schools were evacuated and were they not those in charge had to make agonising decision. 

‘The passengers and crew on that flight must have been terrified when their plane was taken to a quarantined area and apart from the financial cost the onward travelling plans and connecting flights would have been in disarray.

The 19-year-old, from Watford, pictured during his arrest by National Crime Agency officers, pleaded guilty in September to three counts of making hoax bomb threat and was sentenced today at Luton Crown Court

The 19-year-old, from Watford, pictured during his arrest by National Crime Agency officers, pleaded guilty in September to three counts of making hoax bomb threat and was sentenced today at Luton Crown Court

‘Your principal mitigation is your early guilty pleas. Other mitigating factors are your age and lack of maturity, the fact that you have no previous criminal convictions and, to a limited extent, your functioning deficiencies which have contributed to a diagnosis of autism.

‘You need help whilst in custody and thereafter while on licence, to channel your skills for a lawful and useful purpose.’ 

The teenager first created panic in March 2018 when he emailed thousands of schools in the UK warning about an explosive.

More than 400 schools were evacuated as a result, according to the National Crime Agency.

Police arrested him days later, but he was able to send another batch of emails to schools in the US and UK while under investigation in April.

His messages claimed a pipe bomb had been planted on the premises.

Duke-Cohan was arrested for a second time and released on pre-charge bail with conditions that he did not use electronic devices.

The 19-year-old, from Watford, pictured in a police mugshot, pleaded guilty in September to three counts of making hoax bomb threats. He was sentenced at Luton Crown Court

The 19-year-old, from Watford, pictured in a police mugshot, pleaded guilty in September to three counts of making hoax bomb threats. He was sentenced at Luton Crown Court

Before long his name was in the frame for a third hoax, regarding a bogus tip-off that hijackers had taken over a United Airlines flight between UK and San Francisco.

Detectives found that Duke-Cohan had made the calls to San Francisco Airport and their police force while he was on pre-charge bail for the two previous offences.

He was arrested for a third time at his home in Watford, Hertfordshire, on August 31 this year.

NCA senior investigating officer Marc Horsfall said Duke-Cohan’s actions caused ‘serious worry and inconvenience to thousands of people’ and he had carried them out ‘hidden behind a computer screen for his own enjoyment’. 

 In mitigation, Anya Lewis told the court how Duke-Cohan was a lonely boy who was friendless at school and frequently bullied by peers. 

She told Judge Foster this streak of lonlieness continued in custody, where she said he was goaded by prisoners and prison officers alike.

She also told the court that his parents separated when he was six years old and he lived with a physologically abusive father until he was 13 – and from whom he is now estranged. 

Ms Lewis claimed he was manipulated and groomed in the online community from whom he desperately sought the validation and acceptance lacking from his real life.

 George Duke-Cohan's family leaving Luton Crown Court today. His father Gary Duke-Cohan, sister Amber Duke-Cohan and Mireya Duke-Cohan, his mother (right) watched as the teen was sentenced to three years imprisonment

 George Duke-Cohan’s family leaving Luton Crown Court today. His father Gary Duke-Cohan, sister Amber Duke-Cohan and Mireya Duke-Cohan, his mother (right) watched as the teen was sentenced to three years imprisonment

She also cited a suspected diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) for both his troubled personal life and later offending, which Judge Foster referenced while sentencing – citing a report from consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr. Tim Rogers.

‘He is of the view that there is a range of evidence in support of a diagnosis, but accepts that other medical professionals may take a different view.

For the purposes of sentencing, I accept that you do suffer from that disorder,’ Judge Foster told Duke-Cohan.

‘However, to say this is an excuse for what you have done is an insult to the many thousands of suffers who lead law-abiding lives. Importantly, Dr. Rogers expresses this as a result of his consultation with you: 

‘Mr Duke-Cohan alluded to ordinarily hidden feelings of shame, insecurity, vulnerability, and humiliation that had given rise to fantasies of, and a search for, success, power, acclaim from prominent hackers and the achievement of wider online notoriety’.’

Timeline of teenager’s bomb hoax 

March 2018: A total of 400 UK schools evacuate over bomb threats. 

Police arrest George Duke-Cohan and he is placed under investigation.

April 2018: Duke-Cohen widens his hoax, saying bombs are at schools in not just the UK but the US too, sending 24,000 emails in total. 

He is arrested and released on bail.

August 2018: While on bail, Duke-Cohen calls San Francisco Airport to falsely claim gunmen have taken over an aircraft and that one has a gun.

He told the airport: ‘My daughter just called me like 10 minutes ago on the phone crying, saying her flight was being hijacked. One of the men had a bomb and then it (the call) just cut out.’

Police arrested him for a third time.

September 2018: Duke-Cohan admits making bomb threats during an appearance at Luton Magistrates’ Court.

December 2018:  Duke-Cohan sentenced to three years in prison at Luton Crown Court.

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