Man convicted of terrorism hoax after sending ‘wife’s cooking’ to debt collectors

Andrew Cowell
Andrew Cowell committed the offences 'at a time of extreme stress', a court heard

A former company director threatened debt collectors with packages marked “biohazard” that turned out to be his wife’s cooking, a court heard.

‌Andrew Cowell, 55, who faced losing his house for non-payment of council tax, sparked a major security alert after he sent two hoax parcels containing a “noxious substance” to the offices of Rundles and Company in Leicestershire.

When an office worker opened the first package, a “pale yellow liquid” spilled out on to her desk, Tameside magistrates’ court was told.

An accompanying letter, in which Cowell described himself as ‘‘hostile and very angry”, said: “Be careful when someone has nothing to lose. What is your address again?”

On the second occasion, when a suspicious package arrived at the same office, staff sent it straight to the police.

Cowell, from Pendlebury, Salford, Greater Manchester, later told officers the liquid was leftover cooking made by his wife.

He pleaded guilty to charges of sending a letter conveying a threatening message and sending a noxious substance ‘‘namely food items’’ as a hoax under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.

He was sentenced to 12 weeks in custody, suspended for 12 months, and was ordered to pay £378 in costs and surcharge.

Gareth Hughes, prosecuting, said: “On May 11 2022, an office worker opened the parcel and liquid leaked on to her desk. Contained in the parcel was a yellow biohazard bag containing a pale yellow liquid.

“There were two letters. In them, he described himself as a hostile and very angry male. The letter was written in an aggressive tone.

“On May 25 2022, a further letter was sent which was, in fact, a letter sent to Mr Cowell he returned with further text added to the back of the letter, which was again of a threatening nature.

‌“One statement was warning: ‘Be very careful when someone has nothing to lose. Where is your office again?’”

‌Paul Clayson, administrator of Rundles and Company, told the court: “With the nature of our business, it is not too unusual to receive such letters. People are caused anger by our involvement.

“I did not feel distress at the first letter. But later, when a further letter was received written in black marker pen and the incorrect postcode, I was careful following the earlier incident.

“There was a yellow plastic bag with biohazard written on it. It was a printed plastic bag. I was wearing protective gloves pulling it out of the bag.”

‘Fear and distress’

Chris Squibbs, defending, said Cowell committed the offences “at a time of extreme stress”.

Attempts were being made to seize his house and potentially other assets, and he dealt with the situation badly, the court heard.

Mr Squibbs said: “The report makes reference to alcohol being a coping strategy and declining mental health.

“The Andrew Cowell before you now, today, is probably a manifestly different Andrew Cowell in terms of health and how he perceives things.”

Cowell was also given a six-month community order with requirements that he attend 10 days of rehabilitation with the probation service and a six-month alcohol treatment programme.

‌He told the court: ‘‘I have no income. I was tormented by these people for over a year.”

Justice of the Peace Catherine Meek told him: “During these matters, you showed absolutely no consideration for the effect your actions had on those people.

‌“They were sitting in the office minding their own business, trying to do their job, and received threats like this. You put them into fear with the biohazard bags. You intended to cause fear and distress and intimidate the people just doing their job.

“We feel the offences are so serious that only custodial sentences are appropriate. However, we have decided to suspend the sentences. Consider yourself lucky you have a suspended sentence.”