Belfast man who extorted over £60k from vulnerable victim jailed
A 57-year old who extorted over £60,000 from a vulnerable man over a five-year period has been jailed.
Belfast Crown Court heard that, as part of the blackmail campaign, David Gould threatened his victim with loyalist paramilitaries and said he would "take a hammer" to his girlfriend's head.
Even when the victim - who has amassed significant debts in loans he took out to keep up with the payments - moved house in a bid to escape, Gould would turn up to his place of work to issue more demands and threats.
Telling Gould "you have committed a serious offence and must be punished", Judge Philip Gilpin handed the father-of-two from Ballysillan Road in Belfast a sentence of seven years and four months, which will be divided equally between custody and licence.
The Judge continued: "Your five-year campaign against the injured party was designed to maximise fear in him and you succeeded as he gave more and more money over to you, causing him difficulties in a variety of ways.
"Quite simply, Mr Gould, your behaviour was shameful."
Before passing sentence, the Judge heard submissions from both the Crown and defence.
Crown barrister Philip Henry said the victim, who is now 32, was a high academic achiever who was vulnerable due to communication difficulties.
He initially went to the PSNI in August 2017 to complain he was being blackmailed. No written statement was taken, however officers advised him not to hand over any more money.
The following July, the injured party went back to the PSNI and said he had been paying up to £1,000 a month to his blackmailer. When asked how the blackmail started, the injured party said Gould approached him in the street and said "that's a nice car. Would you like to keep it that way?"
He told police Gould then started blackmailing him for money and issued threats to him and his property.
Revealing "there was a paramilitary element to these threats", the prosecutor said Gould told the victim he was involved in the UVF.
During the course of five years, most of the communication between Gould and the injured party was via text messages, with the injured party ordered to drop money into a box at the rear of Gould's home.
On occasion, Gould gave the impression he was part of an organisation and mentioned "the boss", and the injured party was once ordered to hand over cash in an alleyway to a man wearing a balaclava.
Mr Henry said that when the injured party moved house in a bid to escape the blackmail, Gould arrived at his workplace and made further demands.
On August 31 last year, in what Mr Henry said was the "final incident", Gould again went to the injured party's workplace where a threat was made that a hammer would be taken to his girlfriend's head.
Gould was captured on CCTV and an official complaint was made to police. When the injured party was asked why and when the blackmail started, he gave a different version of events.
He said that after having a party in his house, he was standing outside with a male friend who kissed him. Gould witnessed the kiss, threatened to tell the injured party's girlfriend, and the demands for money started then.
When asked why he hadn't revealed this before, the injured party said he struggled with his sexual orientation.
When Gould's house was searched by police, officers located a pay-as-you-go mobile. On the phone were texts to the injured party, including one which read "you can hide, but not forever".
Gould was arrested and when the blackmail allegation was put to him, he denied it and instead said it was a loan between two friends. He also told police he was a gambling addict and on benefits.
Despite initial denials, Gould later pleaded guilty to blackmailing the injured party over a five-year period spanning from February, 2013 to August, 2018. In total, around £60,650 was handed over.
Defence barrister Mark Farrell said Gould's guilty plea had spared the vulnerable victim the ordeal of coming to court and giving evidence.
Mr Farrell also said that whilst Gould mentioned paramilitaries, this was not in the same bracket as an organisation demanding money from commercial premises.
Describing Gould as "a lone wolf" who was "not part of a criminal gang", Mr Farrell said: "In this case there was no violence, no actual violence used. There was no actual damage to property."
The barrister said Gould's "imaginings" of paramilitary links gave his enterprise "more muscle", but in fact Gould was a socially isolated, quiet man with a gambling problem and no paramilitary background.
Mr Farrell concluded by saying that whilst Gould's offending was an "easy route to money", he has since expressed regret and remorse for putting the injured party through a "horrendous ordeal", adding: "He has asked me to apologise for the hurt that he has caused."
Judge Gilpin spoke of the financial and emotional impact Gould's offending has had on a man with "pre-existing vulnerabilities" and said in his view Gould had displayed "very little awareness" of this impact.
After being told his behaviour was "shameful", Gould was led into custody by prison officers.
Belfast Telegraph Digital