COVID-19: Man obsessed with coronavirus jailed for sending hoax bomb to vaccine factory in Wrexham

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A man with an "obsessive" COVID-19 interest has been jailed after sparking a bomb scare at a vaccine factory.

Anthony Collins, from Kent, halted manufacturing of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at a factory in Wrexham, Wales, after sending a suspicious package that had to be detonated by bomb disposal experts.

The Army's Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit was dispatched to the Wockhardt plant on 27 January, where a total of 120 people had to be evacuated.

X-ray images showed the parcel contained equipment that could be used to make an explosion, such as electrical wiring, and a robot was used to move it to a safe location.

Only after the package had been destroyed from behind a 100m cordon, could officers be sure it contained no explosive material.

Instead, a number of items were recovered from the parcel, including a calculator, a letter addressed to Collins, pages from a science book and a receipt from Tesco.

CCTV capturing the supermarket transaction was obtained by police and showed Collins purchasing the items on his own.

The 54-year-old, from Chatham, Kent, also sent similar parcels to 10 Downing Street, a lab in Wuhan, China, a US Air Base in Gloucestershire and what appeared to be the leader of North Korea, a court heard.

While in custody, Collins admitted sending the package but denied he had intended to create a bomb scare, instead claiming he thought the items would be useful for people working at the factory.

However, he did note that he knew his actions might cause alarm and he was found guilty of posting an article with the intention of inducing the belief it was likely to explode or ignite.

During his trial at Maidstone Crown Court, the jury was told Collins had developed an "obsessive interest" in COVID-19 and vaccines.

Defence barrister Janice Brennan said Collins had been diagnosed with a personality disorder and has had an "obsession" with sending letters and packages for around 30 years.

She added: "He is a lonely and bored individual who does find it very difficult to deal with normal life."

Passing sentence, Judge David Griffith-Jones QC told Collins: "A compulsion to send bizarre communications to different bodies or authorities is one thing and may be considered a harmless idiosyncrasy.

"It doesn't explain your behaviour here, which was deliberately to send a bomb hoax knowing perfectly well that it would cause fear and mayhem."

Collins was given a 27-month jail sentence, with the time he has already spent on remand to be deducted.

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