Jean Rutherford’s world was turned upside down when police officers knocked on her door, looking for her son, David.
The shock visit came just a few days after she had enjoyed a quiet, traditional family Christmas Day with her son, exchanging gifts and eating a turkey dinner.
Police arrived at their small property in Barry Avenue, Ingol, Preston, to arrest David, 24, on suspicion of being the man behind the improved explosive found at the Fishergate Shopping Centre on December 17 last year.
The home-made explosive was ignited in the men’s toilets and was discovered by a horrified stall-holder, who alerted security guards.
The incident – which came at a time when Europe was on high alert after the Paris terrorist shootings in November –sparked an evacuation and the closure of the shopping centre and nearby premises and roads, in the busy Christmas shopping period.
That day, Jean and her friend Ken had been travelling back from an Andre Rieu concert in Birmingham when David had called them to ask if they “knew about what had happened in Preston”, but no more was said about it after that.
Then on December 29, as David sat down to eat his tea, police arrived to arrest him.
His bewildered mother told officers he had learning difficulties and then asked him if he knew anything about the incident.
Moments later, officers found toy packaging in his bedroom which they believed matched part of the device, as well as black adhesive tape in a kitchen cupboard.
The find, along with CCTV showing the suspect walking with a distinctive gait, was used as evidence against David at Preston Crown Court.
However, a jury cleared David of any responsibility on Thursday. Their verdict marked the end of a six-month nightmare for the Rutherford family.
Jean, 60, said: “When the police arrived, I did not know what was going on.
“I could not see him for two weeks when he was kept on remand. He was not doing well in prison and was on harm watch. They moved him to Calderstone’s mental hospital and he seemed to be doing better and he was able to phone me and I have been able to visit him and take him some photos of our cats.
“But I felt so lonely without him since his arrest. He kept asking me when he can come home, when he can see the cats. He just wanted to come home.
“We are very close. I took him all over the place. It was just me and him. He is a loving son. He still kisses and cuddles me sometimes. He dotes on our pet cats, and loves gaming.
“He helps old people in the street with their shopping, he has never been violent or nasty – this is why I was so shocked.
“All I could do was be there for him.”
David was back at home within an hour of the verdict, to his mum’s great relief.
Jean said: “I cried when I realised he had been cleared. They let him out almost straight away – he threw his arms around me and gave me a hug and a kiss.
“He is playing with his pet cats. He couldn’t wait to come home.
“It’s the end of our nightmare. We are going to carry on as normal.”
Single mum Jean brought up David, who has mental health issues, on Holme Slack with David’s grandma. But when his reading and writing problems were identified, he was sent to Sherbourne School near Moor Park.
David was well-behaved, though he did not have many friends. When his grandma died, he and his mum moved to Barry Avenue to make a fresh start.
He then attended the Coppice School in Bamber Bridge, and when he left at 19 he began to attend a special college course at Cardinal Newman college.
But shy David struggled as he was uncomfortable around crowds of people and ended up leaving. Jean said: “I think he was let down. He had gone from being in supported schooling to just being left with nothing at the age of 19.”
His solicitor, Paolo Passerini, added: “It’s a sad story of someone falling through the cracks of services, of not having the support he needed once he reached adulthood.”
Det Insp Jane Webb, of Preston CID, today confirmed the investigation had closed. She said: “I respect the decision reached by the jury and I would like to thank them for their careful consideration of this case.
“This was a complex investigation but one that is now closed. We are not looking for anyone else in connection with this incident.”
“I would also like to stress that at no point during the course of our enquiries has there been any suggestion that this was a terrorist act or was motivated by terrorism.”