Belfast Telegraph

Man jailed over suspected £10,000 UDA blackmail plot fails to have conviction overturned - court hears

By Alan Erwin

A money collector jailed over a suspected £10,000 UDA blackmail plot has failed in a bid to have his conviction overturned.

Andrew McBride received a seven-year sentence for his part in a gang attempt to extort cash from a businessman who supplied cannabis.

McBride's lawyers claimed the trial judge got it wrong in deciding he knew what his co-accused were up to.

But the Court of Appeal ruled there had been enough evidence to make the finding against him.

McBride, 32, formerly of Upper Movilla Street in Newtownards, was convicted last year along with three other men from the north Down area.

Police surveillance film and phone-tap evidence formed part of the case against them.

Their trial heard how the victim, known as Witness A, was approached in 2009 after he had earlier provided small amounts of cannabis.

He was told he would have to pay the UDA a £10,000 fine for his role in growing the drugs.

Threats were made that his house would be burnt if he did not pay up, according to the prosecution case.

Either him or his partner would be shot if they went to police, it was claimed.

Eventually the couple fled their home, living in a car for a time before going to police.

McBride's alleged involvement centred on collecting envelopes of money from Witness A on four separate occasions.

Following his arrest at a Newtownards bar in October 2009 he denied being part of the plot.

He was shown CCTV footage of the collections but claimed not to have known what was in the envelopes.

Asked why he had carried out the activity on behalf of a co-defendant, he replied: "He's the type of guy that you wouldn't sort of like to say no to."

McBride insisted he was never a member of the UDA.

Appealing the guilty verdict reached at Belfast Crown Court last June, his legal team argued there was not enough evidence that he knew his co-accused were involved in blackmail. 

But Lord Justice Coghlin, sitting with Lord Justices Higgins and Girvan, said a finding had been made that, while McBride may not have been aware of the exact threats, he must have realised the crime being committed.

He ruled: "It is the function of the trial judge to find the facts and we consider that there was sufficient evidence to warrant such a finding."

McBride's lies to police during his initial interviews were also taken into account, along with the adverse inference drawn from his failure to give evidence in his own defence.

Dismissing the appeal against conviction, the judge confirmed: "We have not been persuaded that the conviction of the appellant should be regarded as unsafe."

McBride is now expected to pursue a separate challenge against the seven-year prison term imposed on him.

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