Novichok ‘wind up’ lands Welsh former teacher with a suspended jail sentence
A retired teacher has avoided jail after planting plastic milk bottles labelled ‘Novichok’ at a popular Welsh castle just four months after the Salisbury poisonings. ‘Pathetic conspiracy theorist’ John Ap Evans, 67, caused a huge emergency response after leaving the hoax bottles in Wogan’s Cavern at Pembroke Castle on five separate occasions in July 2018. Two of the bottles were labelled ‘Deadly Novichok, instant death A-232’ and ‘Do not touch, Novichok’, which were later found to be filled with a hoax toxic mix of tomato sauce, brown sauce and water. Another read: ‘Nerve agent dead’ in reverse writing. Novichok was the name of the lethal nerve agent used to try to assassinate Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Wiltshire in March that year.
Simon Davis, prosecuting, told Swansea Crown Court that Ap Evans believed ‘the Novichok thing in Salisbury was a lot of lies’ and that he ‘wanted people to be aware that what happened in Salisbury was harmless’. The court heard that prior to the hoaxes, Ap Evans carried out numerous internet searches, including: ‘Salisbury nerve agent attack: the truth’, ‘Novichok formula’, ‘victims of Parsons Green’ and ‘where are the Skripals?’ Ap Evans later claimed he carried out the poison hoax as a ‘bit of fun’ to see if ‘this ridiculous art would win the Turner Prize’ and that his intentions were not ‘malicious’, the court heard.
Swansea Crown Court heard the first bottle was found by a member of the public on July 13, prompting police to evacuate the castle, where King Henry VII was born, and cordon off areas. The court heard Ap Evans stood watching the commotion and took pictures. Experts from Porton Down, who were working on the Salisbury poisonings at the time, were sent to Pembrokeshire to investigate. Samples of the liquid were tested and scientists could not find traces of any known poisons. In a victim impact statement, castle caretaker Jason Kenny said the incidents had caused ‘so much worry’ and his young daughter was left ‘inconsolable’ when she heard about the news at school. ‘Just hearing the word Novichok makes you think of the Salisbury incident where people died,’ he added. The court heard Pembroke Castle suffered financial losses of around £7,000 due to the hoax – but was reimbursed around £4,000 by insurers.
Ap Evans was captured after a secret CCTV camera installed at the tourist attraction filmed Ap Evans placing a bottle down with his hand covered in a plastic bag. His image was shared among police and, by chance, he was spotted by an officer travelling to work. Police carried out a search on his home and found items including bottles and felt tip pens. Mr Davies said: ‘There was paper with writing on, practising what he was going to write on the bottles.’ Ap Evans was due to stand trial but changed his plea to admit to five counts of a hoax involving a noxious substance. The court heard the incident was not terror-related.
Passing sentence, Judge Paul Thomas QC called Ap Evans a ‘sad and pathetic individual who wanted to bring some excitement into their life via embarking on this stupid escapade.’ He said the ‘conspiracy theorist’ had caused a great deal of disruption to emergency services and a financial loss to the castle. ‘It was, despite your protestations, an entirely malicious series of hoaxes – deliberate, repeated and pre-planned,’ the judge said. ‘The final four placing of bottles, although they did not trigger the same response, were carried out by you knowing what had happened before and the publicity that had attracted, and I have no doubt that amused you. ‘You are in academic terms an intelligent man but you are, however, an incredibly stupid and foolish one. ‘You entertain many delusional beliefs and suffer from distorted thinking about a variety of subjects.’ The judge imposed a 21-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered Ap Evans to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and attend rehabilitation activity days. He was also ordered to pay £2,400 compensation to the castle.
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