A former Sinn Fein supporter has told a court of his fear that he and his family could die for allegedly betraying the IRA by using their name to raise millions.
He said he was given a week to pay £150,000 or face “appropriate action”.
The 39-year-old businessman’s voice quavered with emotion as he told London’s Southwark Crown Court: “I took it... there was a very serious threat to me and my family.”
He said the threat, in letters addressed to him and his business partner, warned if they did not do as they were told “Fort Knox” would not keep them safe.
The father-of-two, who insisted there was “absolutely no truth” in the allegations levelled against him, said he was left “devastated, shocked and confused... because for the last so many years of my life I had assisted Sinn Fein”.
In the dock are former IRA prisoners Nicholas Mullen (60), of Burlington Mews, West Acton, west London, and Ronald McCartney (55), of Ross Road, Belfast, and co-defendant Louis O’Hara (43), of Collard Avenue, Loughton, Essex.
They all deny two counts of conspiracy to blackmail. The court has heard Mullen was convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment in June 1990. His Old Bailey trial heard he was “quartermaster for an IRA active service unit in London” two years earlier. But his conviction was quashed on appeal.
Mark Heywood, prosecuting, said McCartney was jailed at Winchester Crown Court in 1976 for attempting to murder three policemen, conspiracy to cause explosions, and firearms charges, all “related... to his activities as a part of the IRA”.
The jury has been told they and O’Hara were allegedly involved in threats “pregnant with menace”, in a bid to force the businessmen to pay £150,000 apiece.
The first to receive the letters said he was born in Belfast, moved to London as a schoolboy and, in his early twenties, became involved with the Wolfe Tone Society in London, a “support group for Sinn Fein”.
“Its activities would have included providing transport, logistical arrangements for Sinn Fein members travelling to London and helping them set up meetings... or lobbying members of Parliament.”
But in 2005, his membership was terminated following his role as a “go-between” in a dispute involving a former employee. Efforts seeking reinstatement failed.
The businessman told the court he had first met McCartney — “well-known as the longest-serving Republican prisoner” — 12 years ago. But, following a long period without contact, he found it “strange” to learn he was trying to get in touch again.
They eventually met in March last year when McCartney came to England, apparently to gather material “for some publication on Republican prisoners”.
Then, less than a week later, he got a telephone call from someone with a Northern Ireland accent. He said the caller identified himself as a “representative of Oglaigh na h-Eireann”. Three days later, a letter arrived, apparently from the IRA leadership, in which the businessmen were informed they had “used the name of our organisation” to raise £6m for their “personal gain”.
The trial continues.