Northern Ireland

Newry man given 'Official IRA death threat'

The hearing took place at the High Court in Belfast
Image caption The hearing took place at the High Court in Belfast

A businessman was told he would be shot dead if he did not hand over £10,000 to the Official IRA, a court has heard.

Money was demanded from the Newry-based victim for registering on the group's "Richter scale" over the alleged selling of steroids, prosecutors said.

In a series of phone calls he was warned both he and his family were under surveillance.

Details emerged as one of two men accused of trying to blackmail him was refused bail at the high court.

Michael Drummond, a 28-year-old car and furniture trader of Annsville Close, Newry, County Down, faces a charge of demanding money with menaces.

He was arrested after payments of £5,000 in total were made to his co-accused at two meetings in a Newry retail park earlier this month.

Mr Drummond is not alleged to have been present at either meeting, nor to have made the threatening phone calls.

Cell site analysis

According to the prosecution, however, he is linked through voice recognition on an earlier call to police allegedly staged to divert suspicions.

Cell site analysis also shows his mobile to have been near a public phone box used to contact the victim on one occasion, it was claimed.

A prosecutor said the businessman was first called on 7 October.

"It was from a male stating he was from the Official IRA and demanding £10,000 or the complainant would have nothing left," the barrister said.

In a second call, the next day, the same man warned him to get the money or he would be shot dead.

Further contact was made, allegedly on behalf of the paramilitary grouping, setting out the reasons why he was being targeted.

"(It said) the complainant had come up on a Richter scale of that organisation for selling steroids and that the money demanded had to be brought to Belfast," the barrister added.

"That was in reference to what the caller referred to as the command of the Official IRA in Belfast."

'Freelance enterprise'

The victim was told his movements and those of his family were known, along with the whereabouts of his business.

Asked by the judge if police believe the alleged plot had anything to do with the grouping or was just a "freelance enterprise", the barrister replied: "I think the latter."

A defence barrister said that Mr Drummond denies any involvement in the blackmail.

He revealed that his client has known the man targeted for several years and regards him as a friend.

The barrister said the case against Mr Drummond was "tenuous" and said a £5,000 cash surety was available.

However, refusing bail, the judge cited the risk of any further offending.