Man asked for priest’s help over extortion, court told
A Belfast man who was targeted in a republican extortion plot has told a court he sought help from former Ardoyne priest Fr Aidan Troy, the IRSP, Community Restorative Justice and also from the police because he was “terrified” he was going to be shot dead by the blackmailers.
The man, identified at Belfast Crown Court only as Witness A, gave his evidence against 34-year-old shopkeeper John Gerard Stitt from Laburnum Park, Dunmurry, from behind screens.
Stitt is denying aiding and abetting the blackmailers and claims he was acting as a Good Samaritan to help set up a chain of contact between the extortion gang and Witness A.
Witness A said that the blackmailing started in March 2008 after a gang ordered him to give them £25,000 of £60,000 which they claimed loyalist drug dealers paid him.
The witness said that three months later his home was damaged in a blast bomb attack and a third party set up a meeting for him with Stitt, who said that he would try to “sort out his problems”.
Police secretly recorded a large number of telephone conversations and meetings between Witness A and Stitt who said the blackmailers were from the INLA and were “very, very dangerous people”.
Police arrested Stitt at his shop on July 23 last year after Witness A went there with nearly £8,000 which had been supplied by police.
Also arrested was 30-year-old Michael Walsh, from Moira Court, Belfast, who is awaiting sentence after pleading guilty to blackmail.