A man who searched online for the Dunblane school shooting and bought a gun and 100 rounds of ammunition from the US on the dark web has been jailed for five years.
James Maxwell, 28, of Leven in Fife, paid £1,000 in cryptocurrency to buy the self-loading pistol and bullets and searched online for when schools broke up for Christmas 2022.
The High Court in Edinburgh heard that American law enforcement officers, who were examining outbound packages in the US mailing system, intercepted the parcel bound for Maxwell.
Advocate depute Richard Goddard KC said the Glock 17 handgun and magazine were found hidden inside a household electronic device, along with two boxes of ammunition.
The US authorities alerted Police Scotland and a package with the electronic device and boxes for the gun and bullets were put into the mail after the firearm and ammunition were removed.
The 28-year-old took delivery of the package at a house in Henderson Park, Windygates, Leven, on January 11 this year. Police armed with a search warrant went into the address and found Maxwell wearing blue latex gloves with the mail item in his bedroom.
Mr Goddard said: “A laptop was found open and in use in the bedroom. It had a pdf file saved on it which was an instruction manual for a Glock pistol.”
During an interview Maxwell told police that in October last year his mental health worsened and he began feeling suicidal and researched how to source a firearm. He admitted that in December he paid £1,000 for the gun and ammunition.
Mr Goddard said: “He stated that prior to the delivery of the package he was no longer suicidal but made no effort to cancel the order as he assumed that as he had paid for it, he had to receive it.”
The prosecutor said after the laptop was examined searches were found including ‘best suicide method’ and ‘suicide by gunshot UK’.
But Mr Goddard added: “However, other searches included ‘primary school in Glasgow’, ‘Dunblane school massacre’ and ‘when do schools break up for Christmas 2022’.”
The Dunblane school massacre occurred on March 13 in 1996 when gunman Thomas Hamilton invaded a primary school in the community near Stirling and shot dead 16 children and a teacher before killing himself.
Police also found that Maxwell had saved a sexually explicit video of a young, underage girl performing sex acts and images of bestiality. He also made internet searches including ’13-year-old boy’ and ‘cute 14-year-olds’.
Maxwell appeared by video link from HMP Perth for sentencing at the High Court in Edinburgh on Thursday following an earlier hearing at which he admitted six charges, including being in possession of indecent images of children.
Judge Lord Ericht handed Maxwell a nine-year extended sentence comprising five years in prison and a further four years when he will be monitored after release from jail, telling him: “You are a grave risk to public safety.”
In September, Maxwell pleaded guilty to purchasing and attempting to acquire a prohibited weapon without permission or without holding a firearms certificate between December 1, 2022 and January 11, 2023.
Maxwell also admitted buying and attempting to acquire and possess ammunition, as well as attempting to import the firearm from the US and bullets without lawful authority.
He pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography between April 22, 2022 and January 11, 2023 as well as possessing extreme images involving animals.
During sentencing, judge Lord Ericht told Maxwell: “You did a search for when the schools broke up for Christmas 2022.
“You also searched the Dunblane school massacre and primary schools in Glasgow.”
Lord Ericht told the court the ammunition Maxwell had ordered would cause “greater injury” than standard use ammunition and it had not been lawfully acquired in the UK.
He added: “You purchased them on the dark web, you bought them from the USA and you paid for them with crypto currency.”
“One hundred rounds of that kind of ammunition used would have been unimaginable.
“You are a grave risk to public safety.”
Concluding, Lord Ericht said: “I commend both the USA law officers and Police Scotland for their actions in ensuring the gun and ammunition were not received by you.”
Maxwell will also be placed on the sex offenders register for a period of seven years.
His lawyer, Jonathan Crowe, told the court in mitigation that Maxwell had a “troubled upbringing” and left secondary school aged 13 following the death of his father by suicide.
He subsequently failed to return to any kind of education or employment, and Mr Crowe told the court Maxwell never received any support to do so.
Mr Crowe said: “He spent time in his room playing games and watching DVDs and his life has followed the same pattern ever since.”
A psychiatric assessment found Maxwell described himself as “suicidal for many years”, Mr Crowe said.
It also said he had no contact with the outside world and Maxwell “lived online for many years”.
As a result, the psychiatric report said, Maxwell developed “Americanised” values, common among those who spend time online, particularly around guns, which made his behaviour seem “odd” when compared to the norms of British society.
Mr Crowe told the court Maxwell was simply unaware of the severity of what he had done or that gun ownership in the UK was unusual or unlawful.
He added: “Locking Mr Maxwell in a prison cell is going to do little for him given the circumstances,” and called for leniency in sentencing him.
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