Three years in prison for fake bomb maker

Preetam Maid (32) made a fake bomb that was the most sophisticated officials had seen in this country. PHOTO: ROB KIDD
An airport security officer who planted a fake bomb was "cruel" in executing his plan two days after the Christchurch mosque attacks, a judge said.

Preetam Prakash Maid (32) appeared in the Dunedin District Court for sentence yesterday and was jailed for three years after a jury in November found him guilty of a charge laid under the Aviation Crimes Act.

The court heard the defendant maintained his innocence.

But Judge Michael Crosbie called it a "strong circumstantial case" against Maid, who had previously trained staff in screening for restricted items including improvised explosive devices (IED) like the one he constructed.

"You exploited your role so as to breach security protocols," he said.

"This was not a stunt by a larrikin or a cry for help by someone with mental-health issues ... There was, in my view, a high degree of premeditation and planning."

The judge called the incident cynical and cruel.

"The country was reeling and mourning," he said.

Maid had been vocal with superiors about what he perceived to be lax security in some areas of the airport and the Crown, at trial, said the bomb hoax was his way of exposing those shortcomings.

On March 17, 2018, swipe-card data showed the defendant twice entered a rarely-used corridor which led to the dangerous goods store, spending a total of 20 minutes in there.

Maid took items from the store room — a SodaStream gas canister, a decommissioned cellphone, and red and black wiring — and stashed them in his bag.

Among hours of CCTV played for the jury, Maid was also captured on video making an unscheduled trip to the car park.

It was then that he stashed the laptop bag containing the IED in the car he knew he would later use to conduct a perimeter patrol of the airport premises.

During that task, Maid slipped the bag from the back of the vehicle into the alcove of a hut at the north end of the runway and reported finding it there to his superiors.

An experienced New Zealand Defence Force staff member who X-rayed the item told the court at trial that it was the most sophisticated he had seen in New Zealand and on par with those he had seen overseas.

Once the item was neutralised, it became clear the parts inside the laptop bag had came from within the airport.

The fake bomb also came with a cryptic handwritten note, wrapped around the bag’s handle.

"A: Alpha, B: Birds, C: Crash, D: Dunedin, E: Emergency, F: Fools," it said.

That writing was compared with a sample of Maid’s and the similarities were clear.

A forensic document examiner gave evidence that she was convinced the defendant had penned the note.

Crown prosecutor Richard Smith said Maid knew his actions would have huge repercussions.

"The sheer placing of a bag would’ve been enough to cause suspicion," he said.

"Mr Maid took that a step further and the construction of that very realistic imitation must’ve amplified the alarm caused."

Counsel Deborah Henderson accepted her client’s actions constituted "a gross breach of trust" but argued he should be sentenced to home detention.

She referred to a psychological report which suggested Maid may have been triggered by the mosque shootings, a video of which he had viewed.

In 2008, in Mumbai, Maid dragged a young girl to safety after she had been shot but she later died.

Judge Crosbie though said little weight could be placed on the theory since the defendant continued his not-guilty stance.

Maid was referred to as "intelligent and articulate" by Probation after a pre-sentence interview but his explanation of events appeared "rehearsed".

The defendant was ordered to pay $6000 reparation though the total cost of the disruption was incalculable.



Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter