Belfast Telegraph

Man 'kidnapped' in hair-brained Belfast blackmail plot 'is victim's son', court hears

By Alan Erwin

A blackmail victim was told to hand over £6,500 or else his abducted son would be cut up, the High Court heard today.

Prosecutors also revealed the man feared kidnapped is actually accused of being part of the extortion plot.

Three men are suspected of involvement in the alleged ransom scheme centred around recently received pension funds.

Details emerged as one of them was granted bail but banned from contacting the victim or co-accused.

Thomas Owen McGrath, 28, of Cullingtree Road, Belfast, faces a charge of demanding money with menaces.

The alleged offences were committed in the city two weeks ago.

Prosecution barrister Stephanie Boyd said the victim was phoned and told his son - not McGrath - had been abducted.

She told the court the caller instructed "he should pay £6,500 for the safe return of his son or his son would be cut up".

A further threat to harm another infant family member was also allegedly made. 

After contacting police the victim arranged to leave a bag with the ransom money in a vehicle at the Royal Victoria Hospital car park, the court heard.

Officers arrested a co-accused and recovered the cash at the drop-off point.

Detectives then arrested and charged the victim's son due to alleged inconsistencies in his account after arriving home, according to the prosecution.

"Police would say (the victim) had recently retired from work and been paid a lump sum as part of his pension," Mrs Boyd disclosed.

"There had been demands made of him saying his son who is a drug user had to pay off certain drug providers.

"(The victim) had been paying money to his son... and it seems he said to him that's the last he was paying and after that this blackmail demand was made."

The case against McGrath centres on CCTV evidence of him allegedly topping up the mobile phone used to make the demand.

But defence counsel Sean Devine stressed there was no evidence his client actually made the call.

"It doesn't equate to him having any role in this conspiracy," he said.

Accepting that the case has an "unpleasant taste", Mr Devine contended that it was "a bit of a hair-brained scheme".

Granting bail, the judge took into account differences in the evidence against McGrath and the other two suspects.

Mr Justice Horner ordered him to surrender any mobile phones and passport and directed his mother to lodge her £3,000 life savings as a surety.

He also stressed: "The decision is based on the evidence against this particular defendant and should not be used as a precedent for co accused in a very much different position."

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