Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Couple fled following UDA blackmail plot, court told

A couple have been forced out of Northern Ireland after allegedly being threatened over a demand for £10,000 by loyalist paramilitaries, the High Court has heard.

Prosecutors said men claiming to represent the UDA warned the couple their house would be burned down and one of the victims would be shot if he informed police.

More than £6,000 was handed over during meetings before police made a number of arrests, a judge was told.

Police believe those involved in the alleged intimidation were part of a crime gang targeting people in Newtownards and the north Down area.

One of the suspects, Glen Benson (39), of Barnagh Park, Donaghadee, faces a charge of blackmail against victims named as witnesses A and B. It was said he would deny the charge.

Refusing his application for bail, Mr Justice Treacy said: “Blackmail is a particularly vicious crime and in this case the police view is that this was an organised criminal gang who, on the face of it, were purporting to act on behalf of a proscribed organisation.”

According to the prosecution, witness A said he was approached by men claiming to represent the UDA last September and October.

He was told he had a £10,000 “fine” to pay for alleged drug dealing and his home would be destroyed by fire if it was not settled, the court heard.

At one stage the two alleged victims did flee their home and slept in their car, it was alleged.

Denying bail, Mr Justice Treacy pointed to the potential risks to the wider family circle and said it would be inappropriate to release Benson.

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