Page last updated at 14:00 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 15:00 UK

School bomb plot pair not guilty


Matthew Swift and Ross McKnight gave their reaction outside court

Two teenagers have been found not guilty of planning a school bombing inspired by the US Columbine massacre.

Matthew Swift, 18, and Ross McKnight, 16, were accused of planning to attack Audenshaw High School on 20 April.

They always maintained the plot was a "fantasy". Mr McKnight's barrister dismissed the prosecution as "heavy-handed" and a waste of public money.

A jury at Manchester Crown Court took 45 minutes to clear them of conspiracy to murder and cause explosions.

They were alleged to have become obsessed with Columbine killers Harris and Klebold, who murdered 12 students and a teacher before turning the guns on themselves in Colorado on 20 April 1999.

Speaking after their acquittal, Ross McKnight read a statement in which he said he hoped the case had not affected his chances of joining the Army.

I would now like to put this behind me
Matthew Swift

"I would like to make it clear that at no time was any person put at risk either at Audenshaw High School or Crown Point North Shopping Centre," he said.

"This was merely a fantasy and not a reality."

Matthew Swift gave his thanks to friends and his legal team who he said had "continued to believe in him".

"I would now like to put this behind me," he added.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) based much of the case on journals and diaries kept by the pair, which were full of rants against society.

They also contained details of a plan termed "Project Rainbow", along with maps and plans of the school.

'Over-active imaginations'

Both Harris and Klebold had kept similar documents before their attack on 20 April 1999.

But defence lawyers told the jury the journals were the scribblings of teenagers with "over-active imaginations".

The defendants both took the stand during their trial and told the jury their thoughts and writing never went beyond the realms of "fantasy".

Jurors even laughed in court as Mr McKnight's father, Ray, a serving police officer with Greater Manchester Police, told the court his son was full of "hare-brained" schemes.

Audenshaw School
Jurors dismissed the plot against Audenshaw High School

Both teenagers were cleared of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause explosions likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property between November 2007 and 15 March 2009.

Speaking moments after his son's acquittal, Ray McKnight said: "I never doubted it. We are all just incredibly relieved."

Mr McKnight said both boys had not coped well with spending six months on remand.

He said: "It's been purgatory, absolute agony. Neither have been in trouble with the police before and have been in jail for the last six months."

Generation gap

His son's barrister, Roderick Carus, was scathing about the prosecution case and said the teenagers should have just been given "a slap on the wrists".

The QC said: "I think this was an unnecessary, heavy-handed prosecution against two young lads who could have been dealt with in a more sensitive way."

Mr Carus said the trial had exposed a generation gap in which the authorities had failed to understand how "young people live on their computers".

He said he hoped the prosecuting authorities would "make more allowances for the frivolity of youth in future".

But John Lord, reviewing lawyer at the Crown Prosecution Service, defended the decision to prosecute the teenagers.

"The case brought against Matthew Swift and Ross McKnight was, we believe, one that was as equally strong as serious," he said.

"As such we felt it was in the public interest to ensure that the charges against the defendants were given the full scrutiny of a jury."

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