Northern Ireland

Belfast men are jailed after £12,500 blackmail plot

Three Belfast men have been given jail sentences after admitting their involvement in a £12,500 blackmail plot.

William Barker of Filbert Drive and Christopher Notorantonio of Avoca Close, were given three-and-a-half and two-and-a-half years respectively.

John Clarke of Ardglen Place was ordered to serve a year in jail, with half of that on supervised licence.

Clarke had already served six months on remand.

The judge said he was able to leave the court, due to time served.

Last month, the men's trial was halted after Barker, 40, and Notorantonio, 41, pleaded guilty to blackmailing £12,500 from a businessman known only as Witness A on dates between 15 and 24 September 2010.

Clarke, 37, pleaded guilty to assisting offenders.

The judge said that although every extortion crime was different, a "common thread" was that perpetrators of this "ugly crime will usually seek out vulnerable people as their victims".

The trial had heard how Clarke and Barker went to Witness A's place of work and demanded that he hand over £8,500 as the pair knew he had been involved with a man who had been shot in the legs three days earlier.

Giving his testimony from behind a screen, Witness A recounted how he withdrew the cash from his account and handed it over, but that a demand for a further £4,000 was issued at the time, which claimed to be from the IRA, warning him that the press was "jumping at the bit for a story".

The matter was reported to the police the following week and when arrangements were made for the handover of the further cash, police arrested Barker and Notorantonio, recovering an envelope stuffed with cash from the glove box of the Vauxhall Vectra car they were in.

The judge said Clarke had pleaded guilty on the basis that he did not "immediately remove or distance himself" from the extortion plot.