First-ever UK 'swatting' sentence passed after man shot in face by armed unit due to hoax call

A British video gamer who faked a hostage situation leading to another man suffering life-changing injuries after armed units were tricked into shooting him has been sentenced in the first case of its kind in the UK.

Robert Walker-McDaid, 28, from Coventry was one of the men involved in this "swatting" incident in February 2015.

The term means making a hoax call of a serious crime to emergency services to incite panic and instigate the deployment of an armed response unit (SWAT team) to neutralise a perceived threat.

Zachary Lee, of Catonsville, Maryland, had met Walker-McDaid while playing video games and messaged him saying he needed "someone swatted".

The victim was Tyran Dobbs, and Lee shared his address with Walker-McDaid.

Walker-McDaid then called a Maryland terrorism hotline posing as Mr Dobbs, explaining he was armed and was holding three people captive, plus he had several bombs readied.

He reported the first hostage would be "executed within 15 minutes" unless he received $15,000 (£12,000) in cash.

Shot in the face

The SWAT team rushed to the address believing the threat to be real.

They then shot Mr Dobbs in the face and chest with plastic bullets, thinking he was the instigator.

Mr Dobbs needed reconstructive facial surgery afterwards having sustained several serious injuries.

A joint investigation by the Howard County Police Department, the FBI and Interpol discovered the call had been made by a Skype user from a Coventry home which they traced to Walker-McDaid's address.

The UK does not recognise "swatting" as a standalone offence but, since the US does, the case was worked on by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) resulting in Walker-McDaid being charged and sentenced in Britain.

First sentence for swatting in UK

Walker-McDaid is the first person sentenced in the UK with offences associated with the "swatting" phenomenon.

He was sentenced to 20 months behind bars, suspended for 18 months at Warwick Crown Court, after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice.

The 28-year-old was also ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and made to pay £1,000 in compensation to Mr Dobbs.

Meanwhile, Lee was sentenced to two years in prison in January 2018.

Read more:
'Cyber incident' at one of the UK's biggest vet companies
Masked gunman who shot at car on busy street in 'gang dispute' convicted

'More than a crude prank'

Hannah Sidaway, specialist prosecutor for CPS West Midlands, said: "Swatting is far more than a crude prank - it is a serious crime which can have devastating consequences.

"Walker-McDaid may not have intended to cause such serious harm, but by sowing panic and deceiving law enforcement into responding to a fictitious threat, he left an innocent man with life-changing injuries."

She said those who hide behind "online anonymity" to commit such crimes abroad "will not escape justice".