Newtownards man is accused of threatening to kill Health Minister Robin Swann

Newtownards man is accused of threatening to kill Health Minister Robin Swann

A 44-year-old Newtownards man charged with making a threat to kill Robin Swann as part of an alleged campaign of harassment against the Health Minister was remanded in custody at a court on Wednesday.

William Herbert Hawkes, with an address listed as Ardmillan Crescent, is accused in relation to January 22 this year.

The defendant is also accused of harassing Mr Swann and improper use of electronic communications.

The charges relate to a report of online abuse towards Mr Swann.

The defendant had previously been charged with making a threat to kill the Health Minister; harassment and improper use of electronic communications regarding an alleged Twitter post in November last year which allegedly said: 'I would advocate the killing of Northern Ireland's Health Minister'.

That case is still before the courts.

In the latest case the defendant appeared via video link from custody at Newtownards Magistrates Court on Wednesday.

A police officer said she believed she could connect him to the charges.

The defendant confirmed he understood the charges.

The detective constable said the defendant was currently being investigated for similar matters for which he had been remanded in custody but eventually released on High Court bail.

She said the defendant also had a related conviction from last year.

In the new case, the police officer opposed bail and said the PSNI had received a report about tweets "in relation to the Health Minister".

She said in the social media message the defendant had alleged the Health Minister was 'literally killing elderly people in care homes. Robin Swann is a killer. He is a liar and a deadly b*stard.'

The court heard threats to kill Mr Swann were made and that Hawkes had said: 'Never in my life have I ever had such an overwhelming desire to kill such an individual'.

Defence solicitor Michael Brentnall said the defendant had a "psychiatric breakdown" and needed help with his health.

He said: "There is a significant history to this. Mr Hawkes undertook some work in regard what was happening in the care homes and this is probably the genesis of where this has come to.

"He had been involved in work regarding care homes. He has subsequently made a complaint to the PSNI in regard to that which is being investigated in regards to care homes".

The solicitor said Hawkes sent "materials" to a TV programme.

The lawyer added: "If you look at the content of the tweets they relate to Mr Hawkes' elderly parents.  The genesis of this relates to work he did around care homes and what happened in the early stages of this public health crisis".

Mr Brentnall said the defendant made "Freedom of Information" requests around "excess deaths" and treatment of "elderly patients" in care homes.

He added: "This seems to have engulfed Mr Hawkes",

The lawyer continued: "It is not a legitimisation, it is a background, it is a pretext to where Mr Hawkes' journey has come. The point is, on his own admission, Mr Hawkes is crying out for psychiatric health.

"On his own admissions he has seen and heard things that are deeply traumatising and have led to a situation in which he is having difficulties coping with life".

The solicitor said if the defendant was remanded in custody it would be "kicking the can down the road" as regards his health care.

Deputy District Judge Austin Kennedy refused bail and the defendant was remanded in custody.

He was concerned if released on bail the "same thing" would happen again.

The judge said there had been a breach of bail previously and said the threats against Mr Swann were "simply appalling and they have to stop".

He said the court was "quite happy to allow him to get medical attention" and the only "blunt instrument" to stop threats being repeated was custody "because you can be certain sure that it won't happen if he is in custody. If he is released on bail to get medical treatment there is a serious risk that this will happen again".

The judge said in custody the authorities should give him "all appropriate medical assistance that is required".

Judge Kennedy said: "It is quite clear from the most recent tweets or communications that this behaviour has again been repeated and the threats to Mr Swann are simply and totally deplorable and unacceptable and have to stop.

"He has a job to do. He has a quite difficult job to do and has done an excellent job in my view during the pandemic to the best of his ability and simply he and his family do not need this nonsense".

The judge remanded the defendant in custody and the case was adjourned to March 2.

  • Main picture: Health Minister Robin Swann has been the subject of threats, a court was told.