By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
Given today’s security-conscious times, particularly in the face of mounting terrorism, it’s not surprising that jokes and inappropriate statements about false bomb threats are no longer tolerated.
Indeed, a seemingly flippant gag may humour the joker. But for the people facing the possibility of a bomb threat, it is highly stressful and can cause all kinds of emergency and evacuation procedures.
This was certainly the case in July this year when several businesses around Rockhampton in Central Queensland were called with false statements given that they were under the threat of a bomb.
The offender, a woman from Rockhampton, was eventually charged with six counts of bomb hoax.
Rockhampton Woman Calls Local Businesses Staging Bomb Threats
At about 9:30am on 5 July 2019, a Norma Gardens woman made two false bomb threat calls to a shopping centre on Yaamba Road in Park Avenue.
Shortly afterwards, the 27-year-old woman telephoned three other businesses with similar threats, including a tavern on Yaamba Road, a medical centre on Kerrigan Street in Frenchville, and a supermarket on Farm Street in Normal Gardens.
All of the business had to be evacuated by police as a precaution, causing disruptions and upheaval.
Police Carry Out Searches of Businesses; No Suspicious Items Located
Following the evacuations, police carried out searches of the venues.
No suspicious items were located at any of them, allowing the businesses to be reopened around 11:20am.
Nevertheless, at about 12:15pm, another call was placed by the woman to a business on Victoria Parade claiming a false bomb threat.
The woman was eventually charged by police with making six calls conveying false bomb threats.
Facebook Post by 7NEWS Central Queensland Reveals Community at Large Angered by Incident
Meanwhile, on a Facebook post by 7NEWS Central Queensland informing of the incident, it was clear that businesses, customers and the community at large were enraged at the woman’s continued attempts to convey that people and property were in danger of a bomb.
“I hope she has to pay compensation to every business unable to operate as normal today as those searches and evacuations took place. What an awful thing to do,” one online user said.
“Thanks to the stupidity of this person, people who really needed the help of emergency services had to wait,” another commented.
One social media user happened to be at Stocklands following the incident and spoke to an owner of a jewellery store that had to be evacuated in light of the false bomb threat.
“They all had to stand and wait outside while it rained on them,” she said.
“She [the owner] mentioned that every one of those businesses that lost customers still have to pay their rent to stay open. And this has been happening more and more often. This woman’s fine should be going back to these businesses who have suffered from her stupidity!”
Australian Federal Police: How to Deal with Telephone Threats
Whether a hoax or not, when it comes to dealing with bomb threats, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) advises in its document, Bombs: Diffusing the Threat , that the person who answers the telephone has a critical role to play upon receiving the threat call.
They must be prepared to effectively gather all relevant information.
Essentially, it is advised to remain calm, and extract details that are crucial to help the coordinator or supervisor to make decisions, locate a device, and assist in the ultimate prosecution of the offender.
The AFP advises some key points to remember. These include:
- Don’t hang up – it might be possible to trace the call
- Write down the information accurately – don’t rely on memory
- Try to attract another person – this will allow them to listen in and may help to recall or confirm key information later on
- Try to assess the caller – were they male or female?
- Speech – were they intoxicated, rambling, rational, accented; were they accompanied by a distinctive impediment, lisping etc?
- Distractions – was the call made from a private, coin-operated or mobile telephone?
- Background noise – was there any noise such as laughing, traffic, aircraft, or any other sound that could indicate the caller’s location?
What it Means to Make False Statements that a Person or Property is in Danger
In NSW, it is a crime to deliver information that is false or misleading which is likely to make the person to whom the information is conveyed fear for the safety of a person or property.
This information may be conveyed through any means, including making an oral statement, sending a document, or transmitting an electronic or other message.
Such statements can also be conveyed through other means such as making a report to the police or other authorities, or calling an emergency hotline such as 000.
The offence is taken seriously across Australia and thus carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment.
As criminal lawyers in Sydney, we only specialise in serious criminal charges. It’s strongly recommended to get early advice if ever faced with a charge like this.
A Guide on the Law on Making Hoax Bomb Threats in Australia?
Anyone who uses a carriage service to send communication (i.e. telephone call, text message or via social media) with an intention of inducing a false belief that there’s an explosive (or dangerous or harmful substance or thing) left at a place (or will be left at a place) will be liable to face up to 10-years imprisonment.
This is reflected in section 474.16 Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).
What is a ‘carriage service’? This is a service that carries communication by means of guided and/or unguided electromagnetic energy such as phone call, text message or via internet.
The following will not constitute a bomb threat offence where a bomb threat hoax has been made ‘using a carriage service’:
- The carriage service acts solely in the capacity as a carrier; or
- The carriage service provider acts solely in the capacity as a carriage service provider; or
- The carriage service is an internet service provider acting solely in the capacity as an internet service provider; or
- The carriage service is an internet content host acting solely in the capacity as an internet content host.
Anyone who is charged with using a carriage service to make a false bomb threat will be ‘not guilty’ to the charge if he/she does so under a duress or necessity, self-defence, mental illness defence, from involuntary behaviour or if he/she is a child 10 years of age or under (or over 10 but less than 14 years of age if the child didn’t know it was wrong).