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Autistic man from Coventry cleared of terrorist charges

Chez Copeland, 22, who has been in custody since May 2018, was found innocent of terrorism charges at Birmingham Crown Court on Wednesday (04 March). The Crown Prosecution Service Counter Terrorism Unit offered no evidence against him in relation to two offences of making and possessing explosives, and six charges of collecting information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

This decision follows a successful appeal taken by Hodge Jones & Allen against an initial ruling by Judge Wall at the start of the trial that Chez’s obsessive collection and experimentation with all things military and explosive was not a sufficient defence. Mr Copeland has Asperger’s Syndrome (a type of Autism Spectrum Condition); one of the traits of that condition is obsessive behaviour. He had recently become obsessed with the film “ Hurt Locker “ which depicts the work of the US Army bomb disposal squads in the Iraq War, and he sought an understanding of explosives, including how to make them.

Hodge Jones & Allen took the appeal to the Supreme Court on 27th February 2020, where judges, including the President Lord Reed, over-ruled the trial judge’s ruling by a majority. They concluded that Mr Copeland’s defence could be valid and that the issue therefore should be available for a jury to decide. This is a significant ruling for cases involving people with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Following the Supreme Court’s judgement, the Prosecution reviewed the case and decided not to proceed against Mr Copeland in relation to the explosives and terrorism charges.

Mr Copeland has been dressing up as a soldier since a young child, and had always wanted to join the army himself but was deemed unsuitable because of his Asperger’s Condition. He used a metal garden shed as a home laboratory where he made explosives and then set off small amounts in his garden whilst dressed in full military uniforms and play-acting being a member of specialist armed forces. None of this was done with any secrecy.

After the prosecution offered no evidence in relation to the terror charges, two new charges were brought forward to which Mr Copeland pleaded guilty: a regulatory charge of possessing explosives without holding the required certificate and possession of a stun gun which was disguised as a torch and which had been left at his home by another person.

These offences are not terror related and the sentence of 22 months in prison which came with them has already been served, since Mr Copeland has been in custody since 9th May 2018. He was held as a Category A prisoner on remand in high security prisons Belmarsh and Woodhill whilst awaiting trial and going through the appeal process. Mr Copeland was therefore released from court immediately, subject to a period for which he will remain on licence.

Mr Copeland has no link or allegiance to any political, religious or terror group. He rarely left his home except when accompanied by his mother.

Mr Copeland’s Solicitor Graeme Hydari, a Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen who specialises in representing those with Autism conditions facing criminal allegations said:

“Chez is a quiet non –violent young man with Asperger’s Syndrome who lives a socially isolated life because of his condition. He is very vulnerable himself. Unfortunately, his obsessive interest in all things military and explosives, including how to make them, resulted in him coming to the attention of the Counter Terrorism police force.

“Autism is not in itself a defence to criminal charges, but the condition can be an explanation for behaviour which may amount to potentially criminal acts, even though the Autistic individual has no such thoughts or intentions.”

Mr Copeland was represented in the Supreme Court and at the Crown Court on 4 March 2020 by Paul Bogan Q.C. and Sarah-Kate McIntyre, both instructed by Hodge Jones & Allen.

This case was subject to reporting restrictions imposed by both the Crown Court and Supreme Court until the conclusion of the case on 4 March 2020.

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