Customer who threatened to blow up Lloyds is spared jail after judge accepts online banking 'frustration'
A customer who threatened to blow up a branch of Lloyds Bank has been spared jail after a judge accepted frustration with internet banking was a ''daily occurrence''.
Dean Prescott, 44, made the crank call to emergency services and falsely suggested a bomb had been planted at his bank after he encountered difficulties while logging into his personal account to check his balance.
During the call, the father-of-one told the operator: ''Can I have the bomb squad please? I want the bomb squad. I'm going to the blow the f---ing Lloyds Bank up tomorrow,'' then hung up.
The call handler was able to trace the source of the message and four police officers were dispatched to Prescott's home in Hindley, near Wigan, Greater Manchester.
'Letting off steam'
When confronted, Prescott, who had been drinking heavily said he was ''letting off steam'' and being ''a bit stupid'' after finding himself temporarily blocked from accessing his online bank account due to an IT issue.
His local branch of Lloyds shut down in 2019 with his nearest branch three miles away in Westhoughton, near Bolton.
At Bolton Crown Court, Prescott faced up to two years in jail after he admitted sending a malicious communication but was given an eight-month jail term, suspended for 18 months. His not-guilty plea to the more serious charge of making a bomb hoax was accepted.
Sentencing Prescott, Judge Thomas Gilbart told him: ''Frustration at internet banking is perhaps a daily occurrence for many people but this was a grossly disproportionate response. However it was an unsophisticated piece of offending which was easily detected.''
He added: ''You also express your remorse for what you did and I am satisfied that remorse is genuine. The view of the probation services is you pose a pose a medium risk of harm and those risks can be managed in the community.
''You said your behaviour was a 'bit stupid' but it was a great deal more than that and it was a very serious thing to do.
"However it cannot be said to have been a major cause of disruption or caused substantial distress although four officers were called out which was a needless inconvenience for the emergency services who have better things to do."
He added: ''A custodial sentence is normally required in cases such as this, however in this case you made a fairly pathetic threat to set off a bomb. There is no evidence of any impact other than the police intervention and you admitted what you did immediately and expressed regret and remorse.''
The incident occurred on July 21 last year after Prescott who suffers from anxiety and depression had been drinking lager and taking the anti-anxiety drug Pregabalin as he attempted to log into his Lloyds account on his home PC.
Duncan Wilcock, prosecuting, said: ''He called 999 and asked to be put through to the bomb squad as he said he intended to blow up Lloyds Bank.
''The call handler considered the defendant may have been drunk whilst he was calling but the threat was taken seriously and four police officers attended the defendant's address.
''He was at home on his own and said he knew it was a 'bit stupid what he had done' and he was formally arrested. Nothing was found in connection with the bomb threat itself but his mobile phone used to make the call was seized.
''He was interviewed and said he had made the call because he was drunk. He said he 'didn't mean anything by it' and was 'letting off steam'. He said there had been an issue with him accessing online banking. He admitted being 'not right in the head'.''
In mitigation for Prescott, defence counsel Thomas Wood said his client had mental health problems and added: ''The incident was short in duration and no bank branch was specified at the time and although alcohol was suspected he had in fact been taking Pregabalin.
''The incident is heavily mitigated by his state of mind at the time. He was simply frustrated with internet banking and not being able to log in. He is genuinely remorseful for what he has done.''
Prescott will also have to complete 15 days of rehabilitation activity and a six-month mental health treatment programme.
The case comes after the Financial Services Ombudsman (FOS) said it receives about 150 to 200 complaints every three months about online banking services, most of them about system outages and IT failures.
At the same time, high street banks are increasingly shutting their physical branches, leaving customers with no other option but to persist with online banking.
Last November TSB which was formerly part of the Lloyds Bank was fined £48.7m by the City regulator for a computer meltdown in 2018 that locked millions of customers out of their accounts for weeks. At the time the FOS was flooded with over 5,700 complaints as customers were left unable to pay the bills or run businesses.