Drugs blackmail gang set Banbridge house on fire, courttold
A man's home was set on fire after blackmailers allegedly tried to threaten him into selling major amounts of drugs, the High Court has heard.
Prosecutors said the arson attack was carried out near Banbridge last week while the alleged victim and his wife were out seeking police help for the suspected intimidation.
Details emerged as bail was granted to one of three men accused of targeting him over a £3,000 debt.
Stephen McCabe (30) of Mourneview Park in Newry denies charges of kidnapping, blackmail, arson with intent to endanger life and burglary.
McCabe and two other men allegedly picked the victim up on January 17 and drove him to a forest area.
It was claimed one co-accused told the man he owed £3,000, and would have to sell 5,000 tablets and half a kilo of grass.
Prosecution counsel Conor Gillespie said that the suspect threatened to burn out the alleged victim's house, break his legs and leave him without "a tooth in his head". The court heard McCabe allegedly enquired: "Should we just take him up to the top of the hill and do him now?"
According to Mr Gillespie the man was also told he would be put in the forest and never found again.
The barrister claimed the victim was given a deadline to agree by noon the following day and then left on a dual carriageway, having to walk for 30 minutes before phoning a taxi home.
He added that the man's wife also claims they received threatening text messages on January 18, including one warning that they would be burnt out if police were alerted.
"Lo and behold, an hour after they reported the matter to police the house is on fire," Mr Gillespie said. No-one was in the semi-detached property when firefighters put out the blaze, which is suspected of being started deliberately in a first-floor bedroom.
A television set had also been stolen from the home.
McCabe emphatically denies any involvement in either the threats or suspected arson attack.
Defence counsel Damien Halleron said his client had picked the man up, but dropped him off on learning he wanted to go to Belfast to speak to "nefarious individuals".
Mr Halleron also argued there is no evidence that McCabe was anywhere near the house on the day of the fire.
"He has an alibi that he was at his child's school on that day," the lawyer added.
Granting bail, His Honour Judge Lynch emphasised that his decision was based purely on personal grounds and the particular needs of McCabe's child.
He ordered the accused to lodge a £1,000 cash surety and banned him from entering Banbridge in Co Down as part of the release conditions.