Skip to main content

Accessibility controls

Main content area

Man jailed for sending envelopes of white powder to schools and shopping centres

|News, Terrorism

A man who sent suspicious packages containing white powder to schools, retail outlets and shopping centres has been jailed.

In 2013, Gary Preston, from Haverhill, Suffolk, sent written threats to various educational and business establishments, and in some cases suggested the white powder was deadly.

These included the DVLA headquarters in Swansea, Westfield Shopping Centre in London, Freeport Shopping Centre in Braintree, Transport for London, and a Premier Inn close to Stansted Airport.

Notes were also sent to St Michaels Primary School, Lyons Hall Primary School, and Notley High School in Braintree, Anglia Ruskin University, Essex County Council, and other businesses in Braintree such as Vision Express, Coral, Specsavers, Barclays and Costa Coffee.

The substance was later found to be talcum powder but several of the packages contained notes telling the reader to run or hold their breath.

Preston, 64, had no links to any of the establishments and there was no apparent motive for sending the letters and notes.

When Preston was arrested for a separate offence in July 2020, police established him as the main suspect. His DNA and fingerprints matched that found on the packages and he was arrested in September 2020. Handwriting analysis confirmed that he had written some of the notes.

He was charged with 21 offences of sending a hoax substance or other thing, and pleaded guilty to all charges in August 2023.

Following a cold case review, Preston's DNA from a jacket was then also linked to an indecent assault at knifepoint against a woman in Rainham, Essex, in 1988.

He pleaded guilty to indecent assault and possessing a knife during the 1988 incident in November 2023.

Preston was jailed at Woolwich Crown Court today to a total of nine years and six months, and placed on the Sex Offenders' Register for life.

The prosecution followed an investigation by the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU).

Nick Price, Head of the CPS Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, said: “The actions of Gary Preston caused severe disruption, concern and fear at a wide range of public establishments given the suspicious nature of his actions.

"Following a cold case review, his DNA was then linked to an indecent assault at knifepoint from 1988.

“I hope this conviction and sentence provides some reassurance that this man has now been brought to justice.”

Hannah Wilkinson, Head of ERSOU’s Counter Terrorism Policing unit, said: “By targeting places such as primary schools and airports, there’s no doubt that Preston had set out to cause as much distress and worry as he could.

“It is also clear that, by sending these packages to more than 20 organisations across the country, he had spent significant time planning and attempting to cover his tracks.

“ERSOU’s detectives continued to track the investigation and as soon as new evidence became available, our teams were able to step up enquiries once more.

“It’s a positive outcome that Preston will now spend a significant spell behind bars.”

Notes to editors

  • Gary Preston [DOB 14/9/1959] is from Haverhill, Suffolk.
  • Preston pleaded guilty to 21 counts of sending a hoax substance or other thing, contrary to section 114(1) of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, one count of indecent assault, contrary to section 14 (1) of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, and having an offensive weapon, contrary to section 1 (1) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953.
  • On April 18, he was sentenced to five years and three months' for the indecent assault, four years and three months' concurrent for each of the hoax offences, and 12 months concurrent for possessing an offensive weapon.
  • He was also placed on the Sexual Offenders' Register for life.
  • The CPS Counter Terrorism Division prosecutes terrorism cases. It deals with other complex casework areas including allegations of incitement to racial and religious hatred, war crimes and crimes against humanity, official secrets cases, piracy and hijacking.

Further reading

Scroll to top