Grandfather, 54, plants fake bomb on Tesco shelf to distract security

Moment brazen grandfather, 54, sparks bomb scare by planting device on Tesco gin shelf to distract security while he steals whisky and gin

  • James McDonnell put mobile phone and portable charging pack on a Tesco shelf
  • Staff asked if he paid for stolen bottles he said: ‘There’s a bomb in your shop’
  • The Clayton Street, Newcastle, store was evacuated for 45 minutes in the hoax
  • He has been jailed for 15 months for the hoax and theft of spirits worth £161.50

James McDonnell, 54, left an old mobile phone with a charging lead and a portable charging pack on the shelf at Tesco and told staff it was a bomb

A shoplifting grandfather sparked a bomb scare when he planted a fake device among pink gin bottles in an attempt to distract staff while he stole spirits.

James McDonnell, 54, left an old mobile phone with a charging lead and a portable charging pack on the shelf at Tesco.

When he was caught with whiskey and gin bottles in his bag and staff asked if he had paid for them, he said: ‘There’s a bomb in your shop’. 

The Tesco Metro store, on Clayton Street, Newcastle, had to be evacuated for 45 minutes because of the scare, Newcastle Crown Court heard. 

But McDonnell’s scheme was thwarted when staff put him in a holding area while they went to investigate the device – which they immediately saw was nothing sinister.  

McDonnell, of Appleby Gardens, Gateshead, has been jailed for 15 months for the bomb hoax and theft of spirits worth £161.50.

McDonnell went into Tesco on January 15 at 11.20am, the court heard.

Jane Foley, prosecuting, said: ‘He made his way to aisle nine, the alcohol aisle and placed a mobile phone device with wires and what looked like a battery pack on the gin shelf. 

‘He then picked up a bottle of gin and put it in a bag he had taken with him. He then blatantly stole other bottles of alcohol, which were placed in the bag, then left. 

‘A security officer stopped him to ask if he had paid for the goods and he replied: “There’s a bomb in your shop”. 

‘He was detained and taken to a holding area and another security officer attended the aisle and saw a silver phone with wires next to some Gordon’s pink gin.’ 

The store alarm was activated and shoppers were evacuated, which caused a loss to the company of between £2,500 and £3,000. 

McDonnell, who has 41 previous convictions, including 17 for theft and dishonesty, denied putting the device on the shelf when interviewed by police. 

He pleaded not guilty to placing an article with the intention of inducing a belief the article would explode or ignite but was found guilty after a trial. 

He previously pleaded guilty to theft of the alcohol. 

He told probation he pleaded not guilty as a ‘political statement’ and because you ‘get no thanks for pleading guilty’ but he now accepts responsibility for his actions. 

When McDonnell was caught with whiskey and gin bottles in his bag and staff asked if he had paid for them, he said: ‘There’s a bomb in your shop’ in the hope they would leave him with the bottles. Instead, they put him in a holding area while they went to investigate the device (pictured) – which they immediately saw was nothing sinister

Judge Robert Spragg said such offences needed to be met with custodial sentences as a deterrent to others. 

Brian Hegarty, defending, said: ‘His motive for committing this offence is a need for alcohol, rather than a wish. 

‘He has been an alcoholic for many years and this was committed to enable him to drink more. 

‘It appears he hatched this plan in order to be able to consume yet more alcohol.

‘The device was little more than an old mobile phone attached to a portable charger with a charging wire. 

The store alarm was activated in the scare and shoppers were evacuated, which caused a loss to the company of between £2,500 and £3,000

‘His hope in saying there’s a bomb was that the security staff would go and look for that and he could leave with the seven or eight bottles of whisky and gin he had stolen.

‘It was quickly established it was a hoax and it was simply picked up by security staff who quickly established it was nothing sinister at all.’ 

Mr Hegarty added that McDonnell was depressed at the time, having seen no one other than his friend over Christmas and wanted alcohol to ‘alleviate some of the misery he was feeling at the time’. 

He said McDonnell has reduced his drinking and knows he needs to deal with his addiction, adding: ‘This was not done out of any form of thrill-seeking, he committed the offence in order to satisfy his own need for drink.’ 

Mr Hegarty said there was a reference from a friend saying McDonnell was a ‘good-hearted man who has helped others with difficulties with alcohol’.

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