It started as just an ordinary Thursday evening. The Premier League was on an international break for Euro 2024 qualifying fixtures. Elland Road, home of Leeds United, was catching its breath.
It was one of their supporters who alerted the police over the two messages, posted on the club’s Instagram account, that shattered the peace.
The first was a bomb threat. “Tuesday, 4 April,” it read. “I have planted an improvised explosive.”
A few minutes later, a follow-up message read: “Have fun guys.”
April 4 was the date of Leeds’ next game against Nottingham Forest, with a near-capacity crowd of 36,700 planning to be in the stadium. There were 11 days until the match was played but, with a bomb threat posted online, the emergency services could not afford to wait.
And so it was, acting on a 999 call, that the police put in place the operation that led today to a 21-year-old Leeds man receiving a suspended nine-month prison sentence and being ordered to pay the club £10,000 in compensation.
When the police searched Boci’s house in the Leeds district of Hunslet, one discovery, in particular, made them want to look closely at who he was.
Among his belongings, there was a copy of “The Anarchist Cookbook”, a book that includes instructions on bomb-making and was once described by its author as having, at its core, the belief that “violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change”.
First published in 1971, the book was written by political activist and former Vietnam soldier William Powell and has been closely monitored by the FBI, the White House and various law authorities.
In 1999, police found a copy in the possession of the Columbine shooters. Four years earlier, the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing were alleged to have used directions from The Anarchist Cookbook. Criminologists have linked the book to numerous acts of violence. In the UK, there have been a number of prosecutions in the past few years relating to people having it in their possession.
In Boci’s case, however, no suggestion was made that he was planning anything more sinister than a hoax. Boci told the police he had bought the book as a teenager from Amazon USA and kept it on a bookcase next to his bed as a “collection item”.
Counter-terrorism officers carried out background checks on Boci, including a full download of his mobile phone, and concluded there was no indication of extremist behaviour. The judge, Neil Clark, said he was satisfied Boci’s conduct was “intense stupidity” rather than anything more sinister.
Instead, a picture started to emerge of a young man who had never been in trouble with the police before and did not seem to understand that, as the prosecution noted, it is “rare, if ever, that a bomb hoax does not result in a custodial sentence”.
“It was an act of utmost stupidity by someone, only 20 at the time, who was immature and heavily in drink,” James Littlehales, the barrister defending Boci, told the court. “It shows the dangers of drink and social media taken together.
“He has no real explanation, except it was a very, very bad joke. It was simply a one-off moment of complete madness and one for which he is extremely remorseful.”
The saving grace for Leeds was that Boci could not have chosen a less disruptive time, around 6.30pm on March 23, to post his threat.
Because of the interlude to the season, Elland Road was much quieter than normal when it opened the next morning. Some employees were working from home. Others had taken the opportunity to have a few days off. Many were travelling to Elland Road, including chief executive Angus Kinnear, when word of the threat emerged and they were told to turn around and go home.
No members of staff appeared to be aware the previous evening that a bomb threat had been posted on Leeds’ Instagram account, which has 1.1 million followers, beneath a post showing Wilfried Gnonto (below) preparing for Italy’s game against England in Naples.
Some employees were still at home the following morning when a company email pinged into their inboxes to explain what was happening and advised them to stay away.
West Yorkshire Police did not start the search of the stadium until around 8am, but the decision to close Elland Road was taken swiftly. Staff in the East Stand were evacuated to Lowfields Road. Those in the West Stand congregated in Fullerton car park until instructions came telling them to go home.
The ticket office emptied and the space used by the Leeds United Foundation was vacated, too. A line of police vehicles stretched behind the East Stand as police and security officials aside, the stadium became a no-go zone.
In police custody, meanwhile, Boci was making what was described in court as “a full and frank admission”. He had been out with a friend, he said, and in his inebriated state he did not realise the consequences of pretending that he was planning to blow up a Premier League ground. No explanation was given in court about why Boci had targeted Leeds, whether he was a fan of the club — or even if he was a supporter of one of their rivals.
Leeds estimated the closure of the ground and club shop cost them around £15,000 in lost revenue. According to evidence given in court, a further £2,500 was spent on additional security and dog searches. As Matthew Rose, the prosecutor at an earlier hearing, put it: “Leeds United was shut down for two days.”
At first, there was no guidance about when the stadium was likely to reopen. The police were assessing the credibility of the threat and, helped by the fact Boci’s Instagram account was not anonymous, piecing together everything they could find out about him.
If the authorities genuinely suspected there was an explosive device in the stadium, the operation would usually call for input from the Metropolitan police. In those circumstances, the stadium was liable to stay closed for the best part of a week.
By mid-morning on Sunday, however, Leeds were informed that no explosives had been found. A tweet from the club read: “West Yorkshire Police have advised Leeds United that Elland Road can reopen, effective immediately. We apologise for any inconvenience and we thank the public for their support.”
As for Boci, a number of references were passed to the court to show he was a man of “impeccable character” who worked for his father’s restaurant business and posed no danger to the public.
“This was a serious offence,” Judge Clark told him. “It causes fear, it causes terror, it causes huge disruption to the public. You were in drink and you thought it would be funny. You didn’t give any thought to the consequences of your actions.”
The judge went on to say that there was no doubt the seriousness of the offence would ordinarily warrant a prison sentence of a minimum 13 or 14 months.
However, Boci was given a lesser punishment for making an early guilty plea and his sentence was suspended for 18 months, meaning he will not go to prison unless he commits any offences in that time. He was ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid community work, as well as signing up for a 20-day rehabilitation programme with the Probation Service and a 90-day alcohol abstinence course.
The judge also made an order for Boci’s copy of The Anarchist Cookbook to be destroyed. “If you ever do anything like this again, inevitably you will go to prison for a long time,” he told him.
(Top photo: Harriet Lander/Getty Images)