Monday 22 January 2018

Man accused of going for police officer's gun in bid to kill Donald Trump 'a bit of a strange one' - former classmate

Donald Trump (AP)
Donald Trump (AP)

Scott D'Arcy and Ryan Wilkinson

A former classmate of a Briton accused of attempting to grab a police officer's gun in a bid to kill Donald Trump has described him as "strange".

Michael Steven Sandford, from Dorking in Surrey, was arrested at a rally in a Las Vegas casino on Saturday after going for the weapon as he asked for the presidential hopeful's autograph.

The 20-year-old, who was in America without permission, later told police he wanted to kill the presumptive Republican nominee, according to the Secret Service.

The US court heard Sandford told investigators he expected to die in the attempt, which he had been planning for a year. He arrived in the city on Friday, when he went to a local shooting range where he reportedly learned how to use a gun for the first time.

A federal public defender told the court on Monday that Sandford was autistic yet competent, although he did not enter a plea.

His mother, who has not been named, told the judge he had a history of mental health problems.

A former classmate of Sandford, who is now 20 and was in his Year Six class at Powell Corderoy Primary School in Dorking, said: "My boyfriend's mum showed me an article about it this morning and asked if I had gone to school with him and as soon as I saw the picture I recognised him.

"All I remember about him from school - he was a bit of a strange one and I never really spoke to him.

"We didn't keep in touch. I used to see his mum around town quite a lot."

She said she was aware he had some mental health issues and autism.

Paul Davey, from Havant, reportedly said his son did not have an interest in politics, had a form of autism called Asperger's and he feared his son may have been manipulated.

He was also reportedly a fan of Robot Wars as a teenager and had bought several machines from the robotic fighting series.

According to court research, Sandford did not have permission to be in the US after overstaying a visa and was unemployed. Papers filed at the court said he had been in the country for around 18 months and lived in Hoboken, New Jersey.

He had driven across the US to San Bernardino, California, and had been living out of his car before travelling on to Las Vegas on Thursday.

On Friday, he visited the Battlefield Vegas shooting range where he practised using a 9mm Glock pistol, firing off 20 rounds.

The following day he went to the Treasure Island Casino where Mr Trump was addressing a rally of 1,500 supporters amid tight security.

Attendees had to pass through metal detectors manned by Secret Service, police and casino security officials.

One of those in the crowd, Gregg Donovan, said he had briefly spoken to Sandford while they queued and he seemed "strange".

When he later asked to get an autograph from the billionaire, Sandford allegedly attempted to take a police officer's holstered gun before being tackled and frogmarched from the venue.

A Secret Service report said Sandford told officers he had been planning the assassination for around 12 months and believed he would die in the process.

He said he had also bought a ticket to a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, for later on Saturday as a back-up.

Sandford was carrying a UK driving licence at the time he was arrested.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are providing assistance following an arrest of a British national in Las Vegas."

Surrey Police said they were providing support to the family, who are understood to be planning to travel to America.

On Monday, Sandford was denied bail at the district court in Nevada, where he appeared charged with an act of violence on restricted grounds.

Federal Magistrate Judge George Foley declined to release Sandford, who appeared before him in leg irons, over concerns that he was a potential danger to the community and a flight risk.

He will appear in court again on July 5.

Sandford went on to attend Ashcombe School, said headteacher David Blow, but he declined to comment further.

Powell Corderoy headteacher Emma McLoughlin said she did not work at the school when Sandford attended but staff had mentioned him.

She said: "I did not know the guy, it was a long time ago in the school's history.

"It highlights the importance of how we teach children about expressing themselves in non-violent ways.

"To be honest it's not the sort of thing we want to draw the children's attention to."

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