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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
Former teacher jailed for anthrax hoax
Welsh Assembly Building, Cardiff Bay
The packages sparked a security alert at the assembly
A former chemistry teacher who sent hoax anthrax mail to the Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan has been jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Nicholas Roberts, 50, posted four packages containing white powder at the height of the anthrax scares following last September's terrorist attacks in the US.

Nicholas Roberts
Roberts claimed the letters were "conceptual art"

As well as Rhodri Morgan, the chemistry graduate posted one of the envelopes containing white flour to Welsh travel writer Jan Morris.

In February, unemployed Roberts, from the Riverside area of Cardiff, was found guilty of attempting to cause a public nuisance by sending packages to public figures.

The bachelor, who has an earlier conviction for throwing eggs at the Queen's car during a royal visit, had claimed the packages were works of "conceptual art" which would benefit society.

Sentencing had been delayed while the courts awaited psychiatric reports on Roberts, who it has been established is not suffering from mental illness.

Jailing him at Cardiff Crown Court, Judge John Griffith QC said: "In light of the events of September 11, your actions demonstrate wickedness of the highest order.

He didn't know why he sent the letter to Jan Morris - but said he found the hoax funny.

Prosecutor Peter Murphy

"The anxiety you caused was considerable...your intention was to cause each recipient to believe the packages contained anthrax."

The judge said the 30-month sentence was to make it clear to Roberts and others that "offences of this type will not be tolerated".

The hoax letters were sent in the wake of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington, and sparked a major security alert in Cardiff, both at the Welsh Assembly building and the city's main postal sorting office.

Prosecuting Peter Murphy said Roberts had read an article by (Jan) Morris which criticised Rhodri Morgan, saying the First Minister had done nothing for Wales.

"Roberts agreed with this and that is why he sent the flour. He didn't know why he sent the letter to Jan Morris - but said he found the hoax funny."

First Minister, Wales, Rhodri Morgan
Rhodri Morgan: Target of one of the letters

Eventually, after having second thoughts, Roberts raised the alarm himself, the court heard.

A major security alert was then put into operation, despite Roberts telling police the letters - which also went to two of his friends - only contained flour.

Defending, Peter Heywood said the courts had to view the offences seriously because of their timing.

"Prison holds no fears for Roberts.

"It is an environment where he has company and friendship - something he is lacking on this side of the prison wall."

Roberts has a previous conviction for throwing four eggs at the Queen's car during a Royal visit three years ago.

He also had convictions for spraying road signs with black paint because they were written in English and not in Welsh.

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 ON THIS STORY
BBC Wales's Rhodri Lewis
"Nichoals Roberts sent envelopes containing flour to four people"
News, background and analysis on the anthrax alert

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See also:

01 Jul 02 | Wales
26 Feb 02 | Wales
15 Oct 01 | Health
17 Oct 01 | Americas
22 Oct 01 | UK
18 Oct 01 | Health
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