Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Shop owner tried to extort £25k, judge hears

A shop-owner was allegedly part of a £25,000 republican extortion gang who threatened to shoot a man and burn his business to the ground, a judge has heard.

Mr Justice McLaughlin, sitting as a Diplock, no-jury judge in the Belfast Crown Court trial of 34-year-old John Gerard Joseph Stitt, also heard allegations that throughout numerous covertly recorded phone conversations and physical meetings, a man known only was Witness A was threatened that he would be “executed in the street”.

Stitt, from Laburnum Park in Dunmurry, was arrested on July 24 last year at the Spar shop he owns on the Stewartstown Road and he denies aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring blackmail on dates between June 3 and July 24.

Also arrested at the time was 30-year-old Michael Walsh from Mora Court in Belfast and he is in custody awaiting sentence after pleading guilty to blackmail.

Opening the case yesterday, prosecuting lawyer David Russell said the whole incident began when Witness A's brother, Witness B, went to work at his car garage and found a gang of men holding an employee's head under water in a barrel.

As Witness A arrived, the gang, claiming to be from the IRA, were demanding to know “where's the f****** drugs,” issuing threats that they knew Witness A was dealing in drugs for loyalists and that he had £60,000 belonging to their rival paramilitary faction.

The lawyer said this incident began a series of phone calls, text messages and meetings where Witness A was constantly threatened and told to hand over £25,000 and during this time, Stitt became invloved as a point of contact between the gang and Witness A.

The trial, set to last two weeks, continues.

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