A former teacher has avoided prison for placing bottles labelled “Novichok” at a Welsh castle a few months after the Salisbury poisonings.
“Conspiracy theorist” John Ap Evans, 67, put bottles of a hoax noxious substance, made of tomato sauce and brown sauce mixed with water, in Wogan’s Cavern at Pembroke Castle on five separate occasions in July 2018.
Two of the bottles were labelled Novichok, the lethal nerve agent used to try to assassinate Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia the previous March.
Swansea Crown Court heard Ap Evans was arrested after a secret camera installed at the tourist attraction filmed a suspect, and by chance a police officer later recognised him walking near his home.
Simon Davis, prosecuting, said: “The chemical known as Novichok gained notoriety after Sergei Skripral, his daughter Yulia and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey were victims of a nerve agent attack in Salisbury in March 2018.
“The effects of the chemical were further made known after Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley were poisoned in Amesbury in June 2018. Dawn Sturgess subsequently died as a result of the poisoning on July 8.
“Those events were detailed in national news reports.”
Mr Davis said Ap Evans had carried out numerous internet searches, including looking for “Salisbury nerve agent attack: the truth”, “Novichok formula”, “victims of Parsons Green” and “where are the Skripals?”
The court heard that after the first bottle was discovered by a member of the public on July 13, the castle was evacuated and closed.
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 personal statement, castle caretaker Jason Kenny said the incidents had caused “so much worry”.
“Just hearing the word Novichok makes you think of the Salisbury incident where people died,” he added.
Following his arrest, Ap Evans admitted his guilt and said he had done it as a “bit of fun”.
“He believed the Novichok thing in Salisbury was a lot of lies and he didn’t know why he had done it,” Mr Davis said.
“He wanted people to be aware of what happened in Salisbury was harmless and he carried on as he hadn’t been caught.”
Later, Ap Evans retracted his original admissions and attempted to claim he was creating an art installation for the Turner Prize.
“He had written on the bottles as a joke to see if this ‘ridiculous art’ as he described it, would win the Turner Prize,” Mr Davis said.
“He took 12 bottles to a recycling bin when he was approached by two males who he suspected to be drug dealers.
“They took the bottles from him, suggesting they were responsible for putting the bottles inside the castle.”
At an earlier hearing Ap Evans, from Northgate Street, Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, pleaded guilty to five counts of a hoax involving a noxious substance under section 114 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.
Ap Evans, who represented himself, maintained in mitigation he was trying to create an artwork.
“There was nothing malicious in whatever I had done,” he said.
Passing sentence, Judge Paul Thomas QC said Ap Evans had caused a great deal of disruption to the 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.
“You are what is known commonly as a conspiracy theorist, from what I suspect, a folie a deux.
“I regret to say that in many ways you are a sad and pathetic individual who wanted to bring some excitement into their life via embarking on this stupid escapade.”
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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