Jail for Sussex man who claimed letter to PM contained anthrax

Vincent Potter: 'Frightening letter ... must be punished by immediate custody'
Vincent Potter: 'Frightening letter ... must be punished by immediate custody'

A Sussex man who sent a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May threatening to poison her with the germ anthrax has been jailed for 18 months.

Vincent Potter’s letter, which began “Dear BXXXX”, was intercepted by a specialist postal officer on August 23 last year before it could reach the Prime Minister.

Handing down the sentence at the Old Bailey, Judge Rebecca Poulet said she had been advised a suspended sentence would be appropriate.

But she added: “I’m afraid I do not consider this adequate or appropriately reflecting the serious nature of this offence.

“In my judgement, a person who sends this frightening letter to the Prime Minister intending them to fear for their safety must be punished by immediate custody.”

She mentioned that a “kind and helpful” friend who attended court with Potter said he told him it had been “a moment of madness”.

But she said his previous convictions, in particular for bomb making, were very “troubling” and she could not be sure he did not pose a risk to the public.

She said: “I find this a very troubling aspect of these offences.

“And it’s because of that background that I find myself unable to see that you do not present a risk or danger to the public.”

The trial heard the officer who intercepted the envelope became suspicious of it because of the letters, which were clearly from a typewriter and unusual.

Prosecutor Bill Emlyn Jones said: “Wearing full protective gear the sorting officer opened the letter.”

In it, 60-year-old Potter, from Mayfield, claimed there was anthrax in the letter, but no trace of the deadly powder was found. He also claimed to be from the ‘Brothers of the Right Hand’.

Potter was traced after his DNA was found on the stamp and the fold of the envelope.

He has a significant history of offending - mostly to do with criminal damage, theft and burglary - and in one instance was found with a home-made bomb he intended to threaten his neighbour with.

He was jailed for 10 months in 1990 for criminal damage and public disorder, but was spared jail for making the bomb.

The prosecutor said: “He was found in possession of equipment which was capable of being used to to manufacture a home-made explosive.

“He had put these items together with the view of threatening his neighbour, with whom he was having a dispute.”

Mr Emlyn Jones described that offence as “worrying” but “amateurish”.

He also said Potter hadn’t been before the courts for an offence since 1995, when he collected materials for the bomb.

Potter, who pleaded guilty on October 5, arrived at the Old Bailey with a friend and using a crutch. His sentencing was adjourned until Friday (November 2) after his plea so GP reports on his health could be gathered.

Paula Bignall, defending, said Potter has a “long history of mental health issues” and had a “very difficult childhood”.

She said: “He is present today as a man of 60 filled with remorse and regret and to some extent a lack of understanding of how he came to commit the offence.

“He still has no real recollection of the events leading up to or the event itself.

“He may well have been in grips of delusional episodes.

“He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 19.”

She added that sometimes the side effects of the medication he takes become “debilitating” and he is “compelled” to come off it, which happened at the time of the letter.