Blackmail accused ‘threatened man and his parents’

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An alleged blackmail victim was escorted into a bank after being informed of a £10,000 “bounty on his head”, the High Court has heard.

Prosecutors claimed the man was threatened with being shot and his elderly parents tied up if the money wasn’t paid.

Two men accused of the extortion plot were arrested after armed police arrived at the scene in Ballyclare, Co Antrim last week.

David Murphy, a 51-year-old cattle and sheep farmer from Church Road in Moorfields outside Ballymena, and Mark Hall, 27, of Rodney Drive in Belfast, are jointly charged with blackmail and threats to kill.

Both men were granted bail on conditions which include a ban on contacting the complainant or his parents.

Crown lawyer Conor Maguire claimed Murphy told the alleged victim in a phone conversation on March 16 that he had “good news” for him which could only be discussed face to face.

The complainant, who was said to have previously dealt with the farmer at livestock markets, agreed to meet at a yard in Ballyclare later that day, the court heard.

Mr Maguire alleged Murphy arrived with an accomplice and informed the victim “there was a £10,000 bounty on his head”.

The barrister further claimed: “He threatened to shoot the injured party if the money was not handed over ... and also threatened to tie up the injured party’s mother and father in order to get the money.”

According to the prosecution Murphy accompanied him into an Ulster Bank in Ballyclare, waiting in the main area while the man went in to see the branch manager. Police were alerted at that stage.

“In the meantime the applicant (Murphy) contacted the injured party by phone while he was in with the bank manager and asked why it was taking so long to get the money,” Mr Maguire said,

“The injured party told him it was because there was a time delay on the safe.”

An armed response unit then arrived, arresting both Murphy and Hall – who was allegedly waiting in a car outside.

Defence counsel Stephen Law, representing Murphy, insisted the charges against his client were denied.

He told the court the alleged victim had previously spent time in prison and been lent £1,200 by his client.

Describing the prosecution case against Murphy as “bizarre”, Mr Law added: “He’s either the most amateurish, dumb blackmailer that this court has ever encountered, or there’s an argument between these two men.”

Counsel for Hall contended that even less evidence connects him to the alleged offences.

Declan Quinn said his client doesn’t know the complainant and was simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Granting bail to both defendants, Mrs Justice Keegan also ordered them to have no contact with each other.