Northern Ireland news

Co Down man who made online threats to New Zealand PM and London mayor told he 'has low self esteem'

Burns made threats to New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern. Picture by AP

A CO Armagh man who made online death threats to the New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern and London mayor Sadiq Khan has been sentenced to 100 hours community service.

Matthew Burns (20) of Dundalk Road, Newtownhamilton appeared at Newry Magistrates Court yesterday to be sentenced on five counts of improper use of electronic communications, with messages of a menacing and grossly offensive nature on dates from June 14, 2018 to March 20, 2019.

Prosecution outlined the background to the case, which began when New Zealand authorities alerted the PSNI cyber-crime unit to Twitter death threats made against their prime minister following the Christchurch massacre at two mosques in the city in March 2019, when more than 50 people were shot dead.

A Twitter message to the prime minster made in the wake of the attack included a photo of a gun and silencer, tagged with the statement “You’re next”.

Burns was also convicted of threatening the mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn and his wife with the social media threat, “it would be a shame if something happened to her…like a bullet in the head and him too”.

When arrested, Burns fully accepted the charges and admitted to having “far right wing” political leanings, being homophobic and xenophobic in nature.

Defence barrister, Kevin Magill alluded to a pre-sentence report and multiple medical reports both prior and post the offending dates, showing poor mental health of his client.

“His mother was concerned even before the offending and sought help from a GP and other services for her son,” said the defence lawyer.

He added: “He has a myriad of issues, which are now being dealt with,” added the barrister."

District judge Eamonn King spoke to Burns about the fact he had been engaging in such behaviour on social media since 2016.

“In the reports presented to the court on your behalf, there are issues that give me a sense of concern.

“You have feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem," the judge said.

“When you put offensive comments online you are met with a blizzard of responses and engagement. That increases your feeling of self-worth. You feel more important.

“Someone is listening to you and it increases your self-esteem, so you then say something even more outrageous and that escalates and escalates," he said.

The judge told Burns that the New Zealand authorities did not want him "to be prosecuted, but spoken to, so that you understand the impact of the comments you made…isn’t that a very compassionate and Christian thing to do?".

He said in his opinion social media companies such not be allowed to self-regulate and there should be "more severe consequences".

“I will impose an enhanced combination order (ECO), that will get you out from behind your smartphone and iPad, for you to engage with people, you will then see the impact you make with people in front of your own eyes,” added Mr King.

Burns was also put on one year probation.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news