Belfast Telegraph

Christmas Day blackmail threat by man against farming couple

Accused showed "total lack of intelligence" in sinister case

By Alan Erwin

A plot to menace a farming couple into paying out £5,000 involved "a total lack of intelligence", the High Court heard today.

A judge was told phone calls demanding the cash were made from unscreened numbers and using a SIM card allegedly bought openly by the main suspect.

Details emerged as Christopher Carton was refused bail on two charges of blackmail between last November and January.

The 21-year-old, of Lettershendony Avenue in Drumahoe, Co Derry, was arrested after police seized mobile phone receipts from his car.

He allegedly first phoned the farmer on November 25 to accuse him of handling stolen livestock and telling him he had to leave £5,000 in a sealed envelope at Kilrea Market.

The victim insisted he knew nothing about animal thefts and had no intention of paying any money, the court heard.

But a series of further calls from unblocked numbers repeated the cash demands. 

When the victim continued to refuse, the caller allegedly warned: "You will be hearing from us."

Prosecutor Stephanie Boyd said on one occasion two masked men arrived at the woman's business premises asking for her husband.

More phone calls were made to both of them seeking the money, including one on Christmas Day instructing that the cash was to be left at a hotel in Derry.

Police inquiries revealed that a SIM card for one of the numbers had been bought at a shop in Cookstown 20 minutes before the first blackmail call was made, the court heard.

CCTV footage, invoices and receipts all allegedly identify Carton as having made the purchase.

He was arrested on January 5 at the meat processing plant where he works.

During interviews he made some admissions but repeatedly changed his story, according to Mrs Boyd.

A defence barrister accepted it was a "sinister" case.

He told Mr Justice Weir: "One thing that stands out is the total lack of intelligence that was applied to this very serious offence.

"These are cases of blackmail where the Crown case is that these calls are being made without the number being screened.

"That perhaps gives Your Lordship an insight into this particular individual and the degree of aptitude he has."

But despite claims that Carton should be released because of the likely delay in any trial, the judge refused bail.

He said: "There is a well-developed concern he would interfere with the ongoing police investigation into this serious crime."

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