Page last updated at 12:53 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 13:53 UK

Boys' bomb plot was sheer fantasy

By Ruth Clegg
BBC News, Manchester

Matthew Swift (left) and Ross McKnight
The boys were cleared of all charges against them

Living off the land in Alaska, climbing Ben Nevis in the winter and launching a dinghy service along local canals were just three of the "hare-brained" schemes two teenage boys dreamt up.

It was their final fantasy that sparked a seven-month police investigation, incarceration and a two-week trial.

Photographs of Matthew Swift, 18, and Ross McKnight, 16, have been widely distributed on the internet and national newspapers, after they were accused of planning to replicate one of the US's deadliest killing sprees.

The focus was the Columbine massacre, in which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two students who had turned against society and hated their peers, killed 12 pupils and a teacher at their school, Columbine High, Colorado, on 20 April 1999.

A decade on, Mr Swift and Mr McKnight found themselves remanded in custody, accused of plotting a similar massacre at their school, Audenshaw High in Greater Manchester.

Everyone who knows Matt have stuck by him because they know he wouldn't have done it
Carl Worrall, Matthew Swift's friend

The two teenagers, aged 14 and 16 when their alleged plot began, have been found not guilty, by a jury at Manchester Crown Court, of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to cause explosions.

The jurors took just 45 minutes to reach their verdict.

The evidence presented to the court was from their diaries, described as being full of teenage "rantings".

Ross's father Ray McKnight, told the court this was just one of his son's many "hare-brained schemes".

Drawings of explosives, photographs of the two Columbine killers, plans for carrying out a similar massacre - even down to the clothes they were going to wear - were detailed in their extensive journals, the jury heard.

'Greatest massacre'

Both boys acknowledged that they had "channelled their rage" as a way of showing their dislike of school and a general annoyance at society.

However they told the court, they had no intention of carrying out their sinister plans.

Matthew told jurors his writings were "naive and pathetic ways to channel my teenage angst".

"I was 16 with a vivid imagination," he said.

Friends and families of the boys did not believe they were capable of committing such atrocities.

Clothing found in Matthew Swift's house
As part of their scribblings, the two boys had planned their attire

Their plans included driving a van loaded with explosives to a local shopping centre, Crown Point North, abandoning the vehicle and leaving it to blow up, the court was told.

While this created a diversion, their scribblings detailed, they would drive another car to their high school and commit the "greatest massacre ever" by blowing up the building and shooting dead anyone who tried to escape.

In reference to these plans, one friend, Carl Worrall, told the BBC : "Neither can drive. How were they going to carry it out without being able to drive?

"To be honest I don't think he would have done it - Matt and Ross play off each other. If one doesn't back down then the other will take it further."

Mike Berry, a senior lecturer in forensic psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, said a lot of teenage boys liked to "fantasise".

"Many will get an obsession with a certain football team, film star, someone in the public eye.

"In this case, obviously it was with the two Columbine killers. Many do it as a safety mechanism, they are at the age when things start changing around them.

'Bottled it'

"In their fantasies they are in control, they don't have to worry about it, the reality of the situation.

"The real question here is would these two boys actually have carried out these atrocities?

"It's more likely they would have bottled it at the last moment."

Carl added: "Everyone who knows Matt have stuck by him because they know he wouldn't have done it.

"They know it's just Matt taking things a bit further than everyone else would and it's the same with Ross.

"Matt was one of the most popular lads in the year, as a sportsman and a friend you can have a laugh with and people still perceive him like that now."

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