Former Dunedin airport worker jailed for ‘cruel’ bomb hoax

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A former Dunedin Airport aviation security officer who planted a fake bomb on the airfield only days after the Christchurch terror attack has been jailed for three years.

Preetam Maid, 32, at Dunedin District Court on 2 November 2020.

Preetam Maid in Dunedin District Court in November. Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Preetam Prakash Maid was found guilty in November of taking an imitation explosive device into a security enhanced area of Dunedin Airport on 17 March 2019.

The bomb hoax came at a time of heightened public fear and anxiety only two days after the Christchurch terror attack.

The discovery of a suspicious package on the airfield prompted the airport to close for hours on Sunday 17 March and caused significant disruption as domestic and international flights were turned back and sections of highway closed.

The Defence Force explosive ordinance team dealt with the imitation explosive device.

The fake bomb was fashioned out of various items taken from a room at the airport where contraband was kept.

The bag containing the imitation explosive device was reported by Maid as the 32-year-old carried out an inspection of the airport’s perimeter as part of his security duties.

The device was accompanied by a handwritten note which said: “Alpha Birds Crash Dunedin Emergency Fools”.

A police handwriting expert said there were indications Maid wrote the note.

Maid’s movements on 17 March raised suspicion as his access card records for the day showed he went into areas which were unusual, including twice going into a corridor next to the secure storage room where some of the components for the hoax bomb came from.

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The device was found near an area of the airfield where staff, including Maid, had raised concerns about security.

In the days following the hoax Maid contacted media about his concerns and later a petition calling for security enhancements was started under his wife’s name.

Crown prosecutor Richard Smith said Maid had watched footage of the 15 March mosque shootings and must have known how much alarm his actions would cause during such a traumatic time.

“This offending, which having followed so closely from the Christchurch mosque attack, must have amplified the alarm the public and those who became aware of this incident would have experienced. It’s an aggravating feature and it’s particular cynical,” Smith said.

“The defendant must have appreciated the significant disruption that would have been caused given his role and … he was well aware of what had gone on in Christchurch.”

Maid still maintained his innocence.

But Judge Michael Crosbie said there was a strong circumstantial case against Maid, even if he did not accept it.

He told Maid the Crown’s characterisation of the offending as cynical put it mildly.

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“The offence occurred on a Sunday two days after the Christchurch mosque attack. The country was reeling and in mourning,” he said.

“Police and security services were on high alert – that included Aviation Security and … the evidence makes it clear that all staff, including you, were briefed. You would have known from your experience the effect of an airport closure on airport operations.

“The victim impact statements from Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia address some of the cost. In real terms, two domestic and one international jets could not land in Dunedin and returned.

“There were other flow-on effects with rescheduling of flights. That affected hundreds of passengers. If one puts to one side the financial cost to the airlines … one can only imagine a human cost and that is passengers heading home for the work week, coming to Dunedin for business and visiting loved ones.

“So the offending was cynical but it was also cruel. Cruel because of what Christchurch and the country was experiencing. Cruel also because of the effects on your colleagues.

“This was not a stunt by a larrikin or a cry for help by someone with mental health issues. This was premeditated and executed by you as someone who knew the airport, who was trained to assemble imitation IEDs but more importantly who knew what the effect would be on the airport, the public and emergency services. It was a gross breach of trust.”

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Maid offered to pay $6000 in reparation.

Judge Crosbie sentenced him on the assumption the reparation would be paid and gave Maid a 20 percent discount on a starting point sentence of 45 months’ imprisonment.

Maid would be eligible to apply for parole after serving a third of his three year jail term.

The maximum sentence for the offending was five years’ imprisonment.

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