A British man who sent hoax e-mails to relatives of people missing since the Asian tsunami saying their loved ones had been confirmed dead was sentenced on Monday to six months in jail.
Christopher Pierson, 40, had earlier pleaded guilty to charges of malicious communication and causing a public nuisance after police seized his computer equipment.
Sentencing was delayed until the full extent of Pierson’s actions came to light.
Police said out of 35 e-mails originally sent by Pierson on New Year’s Eve, 33 had reached worried relatives of people feared dead in the disaster.
Defendant described as remorseful
Pierson said he was remorseful over what had happened and was visibly distressed during sentencing at London’s Bow Street Magistrates Court.
District Judge Daphne Wickham said the hurt and pain he had put his victims through was indescribable.
“There was an element of planning, indeed there was planning certainly to the contents of the e-mail, which has attracted media outrage and quite rightly,” she said.
The father of three, bankrupted in 1998, said his personal circumstances at the time drove him to send the e-mails.
His defense added he was depressed over the death of his son a few years ago and that another son had been diagnosed with unstable diabetes that required 24-hour care.
The picture of a father grieving on television had prompted him to send the e-mails to give victims’ families the closure he never achieved for himself when his son died, his attorney said.
People who posted appeals targeted
Pierson, from Ruskington in Lincolnshire, claimed to be from the British “Foreign Office Bureau” in Thailand and targeted people who had placed appeals for information about relatives and friends on the Web site of Sky News.
All the messages came from one bogus email address, ukgovfoffice+aol.com.
The death toll from the tsunami, triggered by an earthquake off western Indonesia, now stands at more than 234,000, with 53 Britons confirmed dead and another 198 believed to have died.