Spanish judge clears Aditya Verma of Menorca flight bomb hoax charges

Aditya Verma said the joke was made in the context of recurring comments in the chat over his features and skin tone

Photo: iStock

By:
Pramod Thomas

A Spanish judge on Thursday (25) cleared a 19-year-old Briton of all charges in a trial over a Taliban bomb hoax he shared with five friends before boarding a 2022 flight that prompted the scrambling of a fighter jet to escort the plane.

Aditya Verma, who was 18 at the time, shared a photo on a six-member private chat with the comment: “On the way to blow up a plane, I am a member of the Taliban” before boarding at London’s Gatwick airport en route to the holiday island of Menorca, he said in court.

Indian-born Verma said the joke was made in the context of recurring comments in the chat over his features and skin tone.

The message was somehow intercepted by British security services who alerted the Spanish Air Force, which in turn scrambled a Eurofighter jet to escort the plane.

No explosives or weapons were found, but Verma was arrested on landing and spent the night in jail, police said at the time.

Judge Jose Manuel Fernandez Prieto ruled the comments were not an offence as they were made in “a strictly private environment” and Verma could not have suspected the message would be intercepted.

The trial did not make clear how the British services managed to have access to Verma’s private messages, the judge stressed.

He suggested one of the chat’s other members could have warned the police, but if that were the case, that other member would have to be charged, not Verma.

Prosecutors had asked for a fine of £19,231 be imposed on Verma and that he pay £80,872 in damages to the Spanish defence ministry for the cost of deploying the fighter jet.

Verma’s defense argued that the British authorities should bear the costs of the operation, contending that the information was obtained without judicial authorisation, breaching Verma’s privacy.

The trial has gained attention as it raises questions about the limits of freedom of expression and the consequences of private messages being flagged by security services.

He is the son of a doctor who grew up in the affluent suburb of Orpington and attended a top grammar school, St Olave’s. He also represented England at the European youth championships in Prague in 2012, finishing fourth.

Verma was awarded a trophy by legendary Russian master Gary Kasparov. He is thought to have subsequently won four British championships.

(with inputs from Reuters)