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Friday, 30 June, 2000, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Copeland in court

Copeland: Planned a war against ethnic minorities
David Copeland, the nailbomber, has been sentenced to six life sentences.

"The public must be protected from you and assured that if you are ever released it will not be for a very long time," said the judge, Michael Hyam.

The BBC's Jeremy Britton, who was in court for the whole trial, reflects on the case.

It made for a dramatic start to the trial - a procession of survivors of the Soho nailbombing, slowly filing down the hill to the Old Bailey in dignified silence.

Some, like Gary Reid, had suffered terrible injuries and needed a wheelchair to get into court, others had deep emotional scars that re-emerged as soon as Nigel Sweeney QC opened the case for the prosecution.

As he described the "chaos, murder and mayhem" caused by the three nailbombs planted David Copeland, people started to choke back tears while others were simply overcome with grief and needed support from an ambulance team outside the court.

But despite the pain many members of the communities targeted in the bombing campaign in April 1999 returned day after day to listen to the brutal evidence, seeking an answer to how anyone could justify such cruelty.

Prosecution: He planned a war

Looking at David Copeland sitting in the dock at Court One it was difficult to imagine that this was the man who terrorised London.

A small, rather insignificant man with ruffled brown hair flanked by two security guards, he looked very different from the pictures of a skinhead put on the front pages of the tabloids.

His father and brother always sat close by on the defence benches, away from the bomb victims.

The first week of prosecution evidence made it clear that from his home in Hampshire Copeland had planned nothing less than a war against ethnic minorities and gay people.

Some of the casualties in that war were called as witnesses including the manager of the Iceland store in Brixton who was injured by a nail through his head as he tried to control the panic around him, and the landlord of the Admiral Duncan pub, who was leaning over the nailbomb when it went off.

The jury also saw a wealth of CCTV footage of the bombs going off - as well as film of Copeland on his way to the Brixton and Soho, bag in hand.

And, most chillingly, the court heard the police interview tapes of the nailbomber, describing in a matter-of-fact, slightly boastful way how he had planned and executed the explosions for "political reasons".

Defence: Copeland 'mentally ill'

The next weeks proved a complete change. Now the defence barrister, Michael Wolkind, a short pugnacious figure, warned the jury not to leap to conclusions about what sort of justice his client deserved.

Copeland, he argued, was suffering "an abnormality of mind" when he carried out the bombings and for that reason was guilty of manslaughter - not murder.

To prove his point he tore into Dr Dean, a police doctor, who had seen Copeland shortly after his arrest and assessed him as not suffering any mental illness.

How could he - a doctor with little psychiatric training - come to that conclusion he demanded. But despite Wolkind's cajoling, the doctor held his ground.

A series of eminent psychiatrists were then called to prove the defence point that Copeland was suffering from mental illness and schizophrenia at the time of the bombings.

Evidence came out about a man who from childhood had suffered delusions that he was persecuted by his parents for being gay, who believed he was chosen by God to rid the world of homosexuals and had to visit his GP out of panic that he was going mad.

It was heavy going at times, but the point was crucial - if Copeland was mentally ill, as the psychiatrists claimed, he could not be guilty of murder.

After weeks of cross-examination the Judge, Michael Hyam, could finally start his summing up. The jury faced an age-old conundrum - was Copeland mad or bad?

A scheming Nazi who carefully plotted a series of outrages at defenceless communities - or a mentally ill boy who driven by delusions only he could see took his warped beliefs to the limit?

They made their decision.

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