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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 January, 2004, 20:06 GMT
Bomb 'joke' student jailed
Samantha Marson
Samantha Marson is said to have repeated the joke twice
A British woman is being held in a US prison after she joked with an airport policeman that she was carrying a bomb.

Shropshire student Samantha Marson triggered a security alert as she waited to board a British Airways flight from Miami back to Britain.

The 21-year-old from Bridgnorth was asked what was in her rucksack and told officials she had a bomb.

According to the arrest report, Ms Marson placed her bag on the belt at a security check, telling a Transportation Security Administration screener: "Hey be careful, I have three bombs in here" - before allegedly repeating the joke twice more when confronted by officials.

There's no room for playing games at security checkpoints
Sergeant Joe Wyche
Miami Airport Police
She was taken into custody and within hours appeared before a judge who remanded her to Dade County Jail.

Ms Marson - who is due to appear in court again on 6 February - will be released on bail if she can come up with a 2,700 bond.

Sergeant Joe Wyche from Miami Airport Police told BBC Midlands Today that officers were left with no choice but to arrest Ms Marson.

"First of all, it's a violation of our state law.

"Before 9/11 we took it seriously - after 9/11 there's no room for kidding or joking, if that's the person's intention, so it's taken in a serious manner.

'Hysterical' call

"There's no room for playing games at security checkpoints.

"I'm sure probably over in Britain if similar comments are made it's not laughed upon."

He added: "The specific penalty for this is probably a misdemeanour, so therefore it's probably less than a year in jail, but of the specifics of what could happen to this person I have no idea."

A spokesman for Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office said Ms Marson faced a maximum of 15 years in state prison if she was convicted.

Miami International Airport
Ms Marson was trying to return to Britain to renew her visa

Detective Robert Williams, of Miami-Dade Police Department, said: "These things are considered as threats - it's not something that we take very lightly.

"If it was a joke, it wasn't a very good joke."

Ms Marson's father Jim, 75, said: "We are beside ourselves with worry.

"She phoned at about 3am on Sunday and was hysterical.

"I'm sure Samantha will accept that it's a silly thing to say, but she's the sort of girl who might have thought it would make people laugh."

She had been in the US for three months with her American boyfriend and was returning to the UK to renew her visa.

Joke 'dangers'

A Foreign Office spokesman said officials were seeking more information from the US authorities and Ms Marson's family.

"We will offer her any assistance we can and ensure that she is being properly treated.

"But it is up to US authorities if they decide to arrest someone for making allegations."

Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic warned on Tuesday of the dangers of joking about security.

A Virgin spokesman said: "With security levels so high at present, there are certain things you do not joke about.

"Most Britons having had years of heightened security would realise that you have to be extremely careful about what you say."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Louise Bevan
"She now faces the prospect of a jail sentence"



SEE ALSO:
Teenager barred from flight
14 Mar 03  |  England
'Joke' threats discouraged
19 Feb 03  |  England


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