Piers Morgan fan planted fake nail bombs in city centre in bid to meet TV host

A hoaxer triggered a massive security alert by planting fake nail bombs in a bid to be interviewed Piers Morgan.

Thanasis Joel wrote a letter to Good Morning Britain warning: "By the time you get this, you will hear of me," before hiding one device in a library and another in the heart of Manchester.

As thousands of shoppers milled around the city's Piccadilly Gardens area, Joel got off a tram, approached a police officer and revealed he had two fake bombs in his rucksack along with a hammer, knife, black ball bearing gun and plus petrol bombs.

The 27-year-old then warned a third device had been left in a toilet nine miles away at Oldham Library.

As the officer listened in horror former carpentry student Joel – who has mental health issues and who was sporting a white T-shirt with the names of mass murderers and white supremacists written in black marker pen on the front – explained: "They are telling me to harm people and I have had enough.

''I thought they would go away by doing this but they are there all the time.

"It is like they are not taking me seriously I thought this is the only way it is going to happen and I can get arrested."

The town centre was evacuated as army bomb disposal teams swept the area and carried out a controlled explosion on the device in Oldham and defused the two in Manchester.

What were later discovered to be fake bombs were made up of jam jars filled with nails and wires with watches placed on top.

Police recovered the letter Joel wrote to the TV star and journalist as they searched him at the scene.

It read: "Hello Piers. By the time you get this letter, you will hear of me in the news for what I am about to do.

"I have mental problems but we are let down by the NHS and the government.

"I have been hearing voices on and off for a year telling me to kill people so I am doing this to see if the voices will go away.

"I will make fake bombs and put them in Manchester. Long story – I want you to come and see me and do an interview with me for TV like you do in the USA. I don't want money, I just want to tell my story.

"Don't know where I will be. Find me. I will be in prison or mental hospital where I need to be."

The security operation at 1pm on a Friday afternoon on May 3 this year is thought to have cost businesses in Manchester up to £500,000 in lost trade.

Primark, which has its flagship store in Manchester, suffered £200,000 in lost business while Debenhams and a Tesco Express missed out on £90,000 and £10,000 of sales respectively.

The normally bustling shopping area was closed off to traffic and trams and locals were unable to get into their homes before the cordon was lifted after seven hours at 8pm.

At Minshull Street Crown Court in Manchester, Joel, from Hollinwood, Oldham, admitted placing an article with intent to cause fear, causing a public nuisance, having a bladed article and possession of a firearm.

The incident began when a PC spotted Joel "crying and flapping his arms around in an agitated state" near some food markets.

Vanessa Thomson, prosecuting, said: "The defendant asked the officer if they could go somewhere quiet and then said: 'I've done something really bad – it's the voices in my head, they make me, there is a hammer and knife in my bag'.

"He then added he had fake nail bombs in his possession.

"He said the fake bombs contained nails and no chemicals and added: 'It's mental health and no-one is taking me serious. I have to to do what I have to do.'

"He then told the officer he had planted a fake nail bomb in the toilets of Oldham library about an hour beforehand."

As the information was quickly relayed to police HQ, Joel told another constable he had planned to plant the two devices at Piccadilly railway station and the Printworks cinema complex, claiming he wanted to get himself arrested.

His rucksack was seized and he was led away to a nearby police station while the area was evacuated and a 50 metre cordon was placed around the bag for fear the devices could be real.

Trained officers searched the rucksack and recovered the BB gun, lock knife and two Lucozade bottles which Joel claimed contained petrol.

Miss Thomson said: "All surrounding business premises and residential properties, retail and food outlets were evacuated and police said it took a significant amount of time to complete the exercise and make the area safe.

"As a consequence of the public alarm, other calls were received regarding suspect packages. The fear of terror attacks had increased following the Arena attack and the task of ensuring public safety was paramount.

"At the time Piccadilly gardens was very busy due to it being a pleasant sunny day."

In a statement one experienced PC said: "I've dealt with a wide range of incidents in my career but I was rather petrified by this ordeal. It was a judgement call opening the bag to check.

"We have to deal with a number of suspicious package incidents but this was totally different. His demeanour and behaviour and then seeing the hammer gave us real concern a device or bomb may have been in the bag too.

"He did say it was fake from the outset – however we couldn't take that chance."

Police found pictures of the fake bombs on Joel's mobile phone plus an image of him holding the BB Gun, the marked T-shirt and the Lucozade bottles next to a petrol can and a lighter.

He refused to respond to any questions in interview.

In mitigation defence counsel Carl Hargan said: "He was suffering from mental health difficulties and his remorse is genuine in this case. He cannot believe what he has done and he cannot believe that is him.

"He appreciates the fear that must have been caused and he is struggling to deal with the impact and the fact that it was him who caused it.

"His mother says, he and his brothers were abducted by their father and subjected to emotional and psychological abuse.

"She struggled for a long time to get her sons back due to the difficulties getting them back from Greece. She says he suffered more, as he was a bright and sensitive boy.

"Since September 2018 he was really bad he was withdrawn and not interested and she took the view that he needed help.

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