Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Prince Harry death plot man works in Belfast tattoo studio


By Christopher Woodhouse

A Muslim convert jailed for threatening to kill Prince Harry is now working at a popular Belfast tattoo parlour, Sunday Life can reveal.

Bangor man Ashraf Islam, who calls himself Ash, has been keeping a low profile since his release from prison.

But we tracked down the ex-British soldier and serial fraudster to a busy tattoo studio in the city centre.

A former staff member claimed Islam uses the back room to take erotic photographs and describes himself as a "god".

The ex-heroin junkie and would-be porn movie star and director also allegedly told staff to delete their social media profiles, encouraged them to go to a Buddhist temple and even followed one while she was out on a date.

Formerly known as Mark Townley, he served time for scamming people across the UK and Ireland, including teenage girls through a fake modelling agency.

When Sunday Life approached heavily tattooed Islam at Sink The Ink on Belfast's Castle Street, he told our reporter the claims were "ridiculous".

"I have never done one photoshoot in this building. It's just ridiculous," he said.

"There is nothing wrong, illegal or immoral about what I do.

"I work very hard to have stronger integrity than anybody else because of all that bulls***. There is nothing I do that does harm to anybody."

But he then tried to do a deal with this newspaper, promising to hand us copies of the footage of his police interview during the Prince Harry case if we did not reveal where he was working.

He also offered to reveal details of al-Qaida members he met in the Middle East and London.

A worried member of the public who knew Islam was working at the Sink The Ink studio also contacted this newspaper after learning of his notorious criminal past.

"He is in charge of taking people's personal details for bookings and comes into contact with a lot of impressionable young women," said the person, who did not wish to be named.

"Given he is a fraudster who scammed a lot of people and young women who wanted to be models, I think he should be exposed for who he really is."

One person who worked there but left the studio said Islam claimed he served in the marines and is now a Buddhist.

They said he made the staff do pull-ups and caused them to feel uncomfortable.

The source told this newspaper Islam described himself as a beauty photographer, but his portfolio contained pictures of scantily-clad women with whips and chains.

When a Sunday Life reporter called into the studio last week, Islam advised them on what sort of tattoos to get.

When asked about getting into modelling he told her: "I think there's a handful of people who do that kind of stuff, we have a guy who does photographs for us here."

Sunday Life asked Sink The Ink owners, brothers Darren and Brendan Livingstone, if they knew of Islam's past.

"We know everything about Ash's past - we know about everything the papers have ever written and everything from his side as well," said Darren.

"He still works with us because he is our friend. He has served his time."

Darren also claimed the rumours were being spread in a bid to damage the business.

Brendan added: "It's a very colourful past (but) fair play to him, he's honest about everything he did."

Islam made international headlines in May 2013 after he walked into a police station in west London and confessed he was going to gun down Prince Harry.

The middle-class grammar school boy turned militant Muslim made his admission the day after the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in the city by Islamic fanatics.

Islam, who was booted out of the Army for misconduct, claimed he was going to murder the sixth in line to the throne because he "had blood on his hands" after serving in Afghanistan.

He planned to disarm one of the prince's bodyguards and use his gun to shoot Harry, but he handed himself in because he was nervous about his crackpot terror plot.

Police found a document on Islam's computer which read: "Aim for target. No civilians to be injured. Dress code is the biker look. Use low-calibre pistol at close range. Not to be viewed as Islamist extremist." Jailing him for three years in February 2014, Judge Richard McGregor-Johnson said he had given his plot "considerable thought" and though it was "vague and unlikely to succeed", he still presented a risk to the public.

Islam was due for release after 18 months but served extra time for committing a UK-wide fraud operation, eventually walking free in late 2015.

When he was banged up for his royal death threat, he would have been more than familiar with the view from the wrong side of the bars.

Islam first fell foul of the law in 2004, aged just 21 and still known as Mark Townley, when he set up a money lending company, No Problem Loans, aided by loyalist paramilitaries.

Clients had to pay a £25 "arrangement" fee to get cash, but many were left empty-handed and he ended up getting a six-month suspended jail sentence for fraud.

Debt-ridden and facing threats to his life from loyalists, he resurfaced in Liverpool in 2006, styling himself as Tony Mandez, owner of the Mandez Corporation.

His sham security firm offered an intensive £250 training session and promised work in Iraq, with dozens of ex-squaddies signing up.

But when customers turned up to a remote beach in Wales, they found there was no course and no sign of Islam.

When they tried to call him, a voicemail message said he was dead and head office in Spain was in charge.

This scam was quickly rumbled and he ended up back in the dock, pleading guilty to 14 fraud charges and earning himself another suspended jail term.

Islam then hopped across the Irish Sea, arriving in Dublin, where he set up another money-spinning farce, Eire Models, in 2008.

He billed women and teenagers up to €300 to join the agency with a chance to appear on TV but the company soon folded and Islam fled back to Northern Ireland, this time to rip off charity and voluntary groups.

In 2009, he set up the National Task Force (NTF), which promised non-profit organisations across the UK equipment such as minibuses and boxing rings.

But none of the goods materialised and NTF owed an estimated £80,000 to charities, including one group that helps African children.

He was not brought to justice for this heartless scam until 2014, when he was already languishing in prison for his plan to murder Prince Harry.

Islam was given one year in jail and two on licence, with the prosecution estimating he pocketed £56,000 from the scheme.

During his sentencing, the court was told he had "significant" mental health issues, but Judge Patricia Smyth said this did not stop him knowing the difference between right and wrong.

After the NTF debacle, he once again gave his creditors the slip by changing his name to Mark Hamill, after the Star Wars actor.

In 2011, he established photographic training firm Maria Marx Photography, which fleeced 26 photography students out of £150 each, for which he served 10 months in prison.

It was while serving this sentence that he converted to the Muslim faith, changing his name by deed poll from Mark Townley to Ashraf Islam.

After a brief spell in jail in 2012 for other fraud matters, he made his way to Dublin, falling in with an extremist Islamic group.

He then turned up at a relative's door and announced he was going to make an X-rated film, Jesus Christ Porn Star, which he planned to release on Christmas Day with him in the starring role.

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