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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 01:52 GMT
New leads in anthrax hoax inquiry
Hoax letter
The packages were sent to a number of organisations
Detectives investigating a campaign of hoax anthrax letters are closer to a breakthrough following an appeal on the BBC.

Scotland Yard is investigating scores of anthrax hoaxes at government and business premises across London.

Detective Superintendent Bob Randall, heading the investigation, made an appeal for information on Wednesday's edition of the BBC Crimewatch UK programme.

He showed the original hoax letters to viewers in the hope they may recognise the handwriting.

In response, 70 callers provided strong leads and 12 separate names of suspects.

Breakthrough hope

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "We have had a good response to the appeal.

"A number of people have contacted us and we will now be sifting through the information in the hope of making a breakthrough."

Detectives believe two people are behind the hoaxes, which have involved 90 powder-filled packages being sent to addresses during the last six weeks.

The packages, postmarked from Manchester and north-west London, also contained threatening letters.

Understandably this is a time of heightened tension and people who deliberately send malicious packages are exploiting this

Det Supt Bob Randall

Det Supt Randall said: "Letters like these are written with the intention of causing maximum fear and disruption.

"The MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) is committed to tracing those responsible and bringing them before the courts.

"I am certain that in both cases, the hoaxers will have boasted about their crime to those close to them. I would urge those people to get in touch with us."

More than 60 letters, posted in Manchester, were sent between 4 and 7 November and contained a threatening note reading: "Aaaaahhh. You have been exposed to anthrax".

A second batch of 27 letters were sent from north-west London on October 18. They included notes reading: "'Allah is great...Death to the USA/UK".

'Very distressing'

The sender wrote James Brian on the envelope and gave a false address.

About 180 people came into contact with the letters and some of them had to undergo the decontamination process.

Police wasted several hundred hours going through procedures involving cordoning off the scenes of the hoaxes, diverting traffic and calling in other emergency services.

Hoax note
Police hope someone will recognise the handwriting

Det Supt Randall said: "It is absolutely vital that we trace the people behind these particular hoaxes - and prevent them from frightening anyone else in this way.

"Understandably this is a time of heightened tension and people who deliberately send malicious packages are exploiting this.

"We are carrying out vigorous investigations and will take all steps possible to bring those people before the courts."

In the United States, five people have died from anthrax and more than a dozen have been infected since 11 September, leading to fears of bioterrorism.

There have been no cases of anthrax in the UK.

In October, the British Government announced plans for new legislation making anthrax hoaxes a crime punishable by up to seven years in jail.

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See also:

22 Oct 01 | UK
In the mind of a hoaxer
17 Oct 01 | Scotland
Letter threats were 'cruel hoax'
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