Health Minister Robin Swann threats - man appears in court on more charges

A Co. Down man already on probation for making threats against Robin Swann was back in court today (wed) accused of making further threats.

Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 12:26 pm

Appearing at Newtownards Magistrates Court by videolink from police custody less than two weeks after he received a 12 month probation order, 44-year-old William Herbert Hawkes was charged with three offences allegedly committed on 15 November this year.

Hawkes, from Ardmillan Crescent in Ards, was charged with harassing the health minister, making a threat to kill Mr Swann and persistent, improper use of a communication network “for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another.”

Hawkes was arrested on Tuesday, following a report to police from UUP MLA Mr Swann but he has previously pleaded guilty to similar offences and was handed a probation order 11 days before the latest alleged offences.

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Health Minister Robin Swann

Six months ago on 5 May, Hawkes was ordered to write an apology letter to the Health Minister after he pleaded guilty to the improper use of a telecommunication network to send a “message or other matter that was of a menacing nature” on 20 August last year.

Hawkes had also been charged with making a threat to kill Mr Swann on the same date and with harassing the Health Minister but those were dropped by the prosecution when he entered a guilty plea to the improper use of a telecommunication network.

Deferring passing sentence on Hawkes for six months, District Judge Mark Hamill told the 43-year-old “I would think that the Health Minister has enough on his plate without having to deal with the like this.”

The judge said he would defer sentence but that Hawkes had to satisfy several criteria including writing a letter of apology to Mr Swann and staying out of trouble.

He told defence solicitor Kevin McDonnell that Hawkes “will write a letter of apology to Minister Swann acknowledging the tireless efforts of the Minister, on behalf of the whole community, in combatting this pandemic” and which also outlined Hawkes’ own mental health difficulties.

Opening the facts of that case, a prosecuting lawyer told the court how Mr Swann contacted the police after he had been made aware of a number of online messages about him “threatening to commit acts of violence.”

With Mr Swann reporting how he “was in genuine fear,” police enquires led them to Hawkes whose contact details were identified through previous complaints he had made to cops.

Arrested and questioned, Hawkes said that due to the pandemic his mental health treatment has stopped and he “was blaming the Health Minister for his own issues.”

Mr McDonnell revealed that Hawkes’ earlier complaints to the PSNI, and to the Health Minister, was due to the defendant’s fears and concerns of care home residents being sent back to nursing games with no Covid checks.

On the day he Tweeted the threats, Mr Swann had been on the radio taking about that very situation so “having gone out that day and taken copious amounts of alcohol,” Hawkes had put his threats on Twitter.

“He regrets his actions and had no intention of carrying out any of the threats,” said the solicitor, adding that Hawkes “wishes to apologise for his actions” and is now “trying to get the help that he requires.”

Deferring passing sentence, DJ Hamill said he “will look to probation” if Hawkes meets the criteria but warned warned that if Hawkes doesn’t write the letter to his victim or commits any further offences in that time, “there is no way in the world that he will escape an immediate custodial sentence.”

On November 4, DJ Hamill said that having fulfilled the criteria, he would impose a 12 month probation order but with Hawkes appearing before him again today (wed), he heard that Hawkes was allegedly linked several tweets making threats against Mr Swann.

Giving evidence to the court Const. Kernohan, who said he believed he could connect Hawkes to each of the offences, claimed the defendant had tweeted threats where he labelled the health minister a “corrupt,” a “deadly b******”, asked him to “explain his master plan.”

He also allegedly threatened that “I would like to kill the NI Health Minister,” claiming that he has a car and is going to “pay him a visit.”

The officer said given the previous offences where Hawkes threatened to decapitate Mr Swann, police feared that if released he would commit further offences.

While he conceded in cross examination that Mr Swann had not yet made a formal statement, that was due to his busy schedule but he revealed that the Health Minister had been left feeling “threatened and fearful for himself and his family.”

The officer further revealed that other tweets from last month were also looked at for possible offences but the PPS had directed no prosecution.

He said that that during police interviews, Hawkes refused to answer police questions and refused to divulge the passwords for mobile phones and devices seized from his home.

Hawkes defence solicitor submitted that he would abide by any bail conditions but DJ Hamill disagreed and refused to release Hawkes over a risk of further offences and adjourned the case to 15 December.