A father and son were sentenced to a total of seven years over their involvement in a £5,000 blackmail plot on Friday.
George Patrick Hardy (56), of Old Forge, and Pierce John Christopher Hardy (23), of Harris Crescent, both Dunmurry, west Belfast, had pleaded guilty to a single charge of blackmail.
Sentencing had been adjourned at Belfast Crown Court from two weeks ago by a judge to allow them to “get their affairs in order’’ as he said they were going to jail for the offence.
Passing sentence, Judge Geoffrey Miller QC handed down three-and-half-year sentences to the defendants, saying they would each spend 21 months in custody and a further 21 months on licence.
He told the father and son: “Blackmail is one of the most serious crimes in the criminal calendar.’’
The judge accepted that there was no paramilitary involvement in what he described as an “unsophisticated’’ plot, saying it was not exactly clear what the motivation was for making the 30 phone calls except for “financial gain’’.
He said threats were made to the victim, the callers knew he kept legally held firearms, and reference was made to an “organised crime gang’’ and to the murder at the Regency Hotel in Dublin in February 2016 when David Byrne was shot dead during a feud between two rival drug gangs.
Judge Miller added: “There can be no doubt that these events were both frightening and very unsettling for the victim who had to stay away from his home with his children for five days. As a result, the victim was treated for depressive symptoms.
“Blackmail is a serious offence. It preys on the soul of the victim as it did in this case on both the victim and his family.
“Deterrent sentences have to be passed by the courts when those guilty of these offences are brought to justice.”
Belfast Crown Court had previously heard the charges related to a 12-day period between February 28 and March 12, 2016 when the father and son demanded money with menaces.
Prosecution counsel Robin Steer said the victim, known only as ‘Witness A’, received the first phone call from Pierce Hardy on February 28, 2016 in which a demand was made for £5,000 “or he would get a bullet in the face’’ if he didn’t drop the money at a location in west Belfast.
Further calls were made to the victim, telling him that he was “being watched’’ and to pay up the money. The caller claimed he knew where he lived, the ages of his children and if the money was not paid the house would be burned down.
Two of the calls were made by George Hardy who had been referred to as ‘The Boss’ in previous calls made by his son to the victim.
In one call, George Hardy told Witness A: “Don’t you be making a c*** out of me.’’
Witness A alerted police and while at Lurgan PSNI station, the court heard, he received another call from the blackmailers which detectives listened to over a loud speaker.
As a result, police started to monitor the calls and the demands for money continued but the amount being sought had dropped to £1,000.
The blackmail plot came to a halt when Pierce Hardy was arrested on the Grosvenor Road in west Belfast for an unrelated matter. Two mobile phones were seized - one from him and one at his father’s house - linking him to the calls.
Witness A’s telephone number had been saved on one of the phones under the name of ‘D***head’.
George Hardy was also arrested but initially denied any knowledge of the blackmail plot.
The court heard George Hardy had a previous conviction for false imprisonment relating to a tiger kidnapping in Cookstown, Co Tyrone where the victim was forced to hand over £5,000 in £1 coins, €1,000 Euros and a quantity of jewellery and perfume were also stolen.
Mark Farrell, defence counsel for Pierce Hardy, said the case was not one involving paramilitaries or organised criminals and described the plot as “amateurish’’.
Defence barrister Sean Mullan said George Hardy’s offending was “at the lower end of the scale’’, adding: “He regrets where he has now placed himself in. His involvement was brought to his door. He now wishes to go back in time. If he could, he would.’’