Northern Ireland

Belfast blackmail accused gets five-hour bail for baby

A man accused of blackmailing a Belfast businessman has been granted bail to see his newborn child and sick wife.

But John Patrick Clarke was banned from talking to anyone but his family and a priest.

Mr Clarke, 35, from Ardglen Place, Belfast, was told not to use the phone or internet during a five-hour release.

He is accused of involvement in a plot to menace an alleged victim, known only as Witness A, into handing over more than £11,000 in cash.

Prosecutors claimed that an organised crime gang targeted Witness A, who cannot be named by court order, by claiming they were republican paramilitaries.

They threatened to subject him to a punishment shooting if he did not supply the cash, it was claimed.

Witness A has been put on a witness protection scheme after co-operating with police.

Three charged

Three men have been charged following an operation which involved a swoop on the city's Markets area in September.

Mr Clarke, who faces two counts of blackmail, was arrested earlier this month. He claimed he was only collecting £8,500 owed to a friend of Witness A, the court heard.

Another package containing more than £3,000 was then later handed over to other suspects when Mr Clarke was not present, the prosecution claimed.

Despite Crown opposition to his application for compassionate bail in court in Belfast on Monday, a judge ruled that he could be released on Tuesday after being told that a priest would collect and return him to jail.

Meanwhile, bail was refused to another co-accused in the case.

William Barker, 38, of Filbert Drive, Dunmurry, is also charged with two counts of blackmail. His barrister described the allegations against him as "nonsense".