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Haverhill man Gary Preston, 64, jailed for sending envelopes of white powder to schools and shopping centres

A Suffolk man has been jailed for terrorism offences after he sent hoax packages containing white powder and letters to primary schools, shopping centres and businesses.

Gary Preston, 64, from Haverhill, was today sentenced to nine-and-a-half years’ prison after previously admitting 21 charges relating to packages sent between September and October 2013.

An investigation led by the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU) found he had targeted educational facilities, airports, shopping centres and local authorities, by sending letters containing an undisclosed white powder.

Gary Preston, 64. Picture: Submitted
Gary Preston, 64. Picture: Submitted

Several of the packages also included ‘warning’ notes telling the reader to run or hold their breath.

Recipients were located across the UK, including addresses in Essex, London, South Wales, Surrey and Yorkshire. The substance was later found to be talcum powder and no medical ill-effects were caused.

Despite continued attempts to identify the sender investigators had been unable to establish Preston as the main suspect until his DNA was matched to some of the packages following his arrest for a separate offence in July 2020.

Gary Preston was sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court today. Pictures: Submitted/Eastern Region Special Operations Unit/PA
Gary Preston was sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court today. Pictures: Submitted/Eastern Region Special Operations Unit/PA

As detectives continued their inquiries Preston’s fingerprints were also then found to match those on another of the packages, with further specialist analysis of the letters also indicating his involvement.

Despite claiming he could not recall the incidents, in August 2023 he was convicted of 21 counts of sending a substance and note with the intention of inducing a belief that it was likely to be noxious, contrary to section 114 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2000).

At a Woolwich Crown Court hearing he was sentenced for terrorism offences as well as an indecent assault at knifepoint against a woman in Rainham, Essex, in 1988.

Hannah Wilkinson, head of ERSOU’s Counter Terrorism Policing unit, said: “By targeting places such as primary schools and airports there’s no doubt Preston had set out to cause as much distress and worry as he could.

“It is also clear that, by sending these packages to more than 20 organisations across the country, he had spent significant time planning and attempting to cover his tracks.

“ERSOU’s detectives continued to track the investigation and as soon as new evidence became available, our teams were able to step up inquiries once more.

“It’s a positive outcome that Preston will now spend a significant spell behind bars.”

Nick Price, head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, said: “The actions of Gary Preston caused severe disruption, concern and fear at a wide range of public establishments given the suspicious nature of his actions.

"Following a cold case review his DNA was then linked to an indecent assault at knifepoint from 1988.

“I hope this conviction and sentence provides some reassurance that this man has now been brought to justice.”

Preston was jailed at Woolwich Crown Court today to a total of nine years and six months and placed on the Sex Offenders' Register for life.

Preston pleaded guilty to 21 counts of sending a hoax substance or other thing, contrary to section 114(1) of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, one count of indecent assault, contrary to section 14 (1) of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, and having an offensive weapon, contrary to section 1 (1) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953.

He was sentenced to five years and three months' for the indecent assault, four years and three months' concurrent for each of the hoax offences, and 12 months concurrent for possessing an offensive weapon.