A “conspiracy theorist” who left bottles labelled “Novichok” around Pembroke Castle in Wales months after the Salisbury poisonings has been spared jail.
Former teacher John Ap Evans, 67, placed bottles containing tomato sauce and brown sauce mixed with water in Wogan’s Cavern at the tourist hotspot on five occasions in July 2018.
The first bottle, discovered by a member of the public on 13 July, caused the castle to be evacuated and shut down as government experts were dispatched to analyse the contents.
Two bottles were labelled “Novichok”, the lethal nerve agent used in a bid to assassinate Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury during March that same year.
That incident caused the death of an unrelated woman, Dawn Sturgess, after she came into contact with a perfume bottle thought to contain the agent.
Swansea Crown Court heard on Monday that Ap Evans searched for terms including “Salisbury nerve agent attack: the truth”, “Novichok formula”, “victims of Parsons Green” and “where are the Skripals?”
Ap Evans was arrested after a secret camera installed at the castle filmed him and a police officer recognised him by chance later on. The defendant admitted what he did at first, the court heard.
“He believed the Novichok thing in Salisbury was a lot of lies and he didn’t know why he had done it,” prosecutor Simon Davis said.
“He wanted people to be aware of what happened in Salisbury was harmless and he carried on as he hadn’t been caught.”
However, Ap Evans later insisted he was trying to create a “ridiculous art” installation for the Turner Prize, saying he wrote on bottles as a joke, Davis said.
Outlining Ap Evans’ version of how the bottles could have got to the castle, Davis said his claim was: “He took 12 bottles to a recycling bin when he was approached by two males who he suspected to be drug dealers.
“They took the bottles from him, suggesting they were responsible for putting the bottles inside the castle.”
Porton Down experts who had been working on the Salisbury poisonings were sent to investigate and found the samples did not contain any known poisons.
Castle caretaker Jason Kenny said the incident had caused “so much worry” and added: “Just hearing the word Novichok makes you think of the Salisbury incident where people died.”
Ap Evans, of Pembroke, pleaded guilty to five counts of a hoax involving a noxious substance at a previous hearing. Representing himself, he told the court there was “nothing malicious in whatever I had done”.
Judge Paul Thomas QC said the hoax had caused disruption to emergency services and a financial loss to Pembroke Castle.
“It was, despite your protestations, an entirely malicious series of hoaxes – deliberate, repeated and pre-planned,” the judge said.
“The final four placing of bottles, although they did not trigger the same response, were carried out by you knowing what had happened before and the publicity that had attracted, and I have no doubt that amused you.
“You are in academic terms an intelligent man but you are, however, an incredibly stupid and foolish one.”
He said Ap Evans entertained “many delusional beliefs” and branded him a “conspiracy theorist”.
“I regret to say that in many ways you are a sad and pathetic individual who wanted to bring some excitement into their life via embarking on this stupid escapade.”
Ap Evans was given a 21-month jail term suspended for two years and ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.
He must attend rehabilitation activity days was told to pay £2,400 in compensation to the castle.
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