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Monday, 11 June, 2001, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Tesco blackmail 'bomber' jailed
Robert Dyer
Dyer demanded money from Tesco
A blackmailer who targeted Tesco during an "evil" six-month campaign has been jailed for 16 years.

Father-of-two Robert Dyer, 51, of Caroline Road, Bournemouth, was sentenced at Dorchester Crown Court after pleading guilty to nine counts of blackmail with menaces and one count of common assault by letter bomb.

Dyer, who had money problems, got the idea for the "perfect crime" after reading in a doctor's waiting room a Reader's Digest article called "How to catch a blackmailer".

You embarked on an evil campaign of public extortion, intimidation and terror

Recorder Christopher Clarke
The piece told the story of Rodney Witchelo who mounted a campaign against a supermarket and food manufacturers in 1988.

Derwin Hope, prosecuting, said: "The evidence shows clearly that this is a very devious man.

"What it revealed is a deliberate sustained and indeed cunning blackmail that was only stopped by massive police resources."

Over six months from August last year Dyer sent numerous letters to Tesco in Ferndown, Dorset, demanding a reward card that could be used to withdraw 1,000 at a time from cash machines.

He threatened to escalate bomb attacks if his demands were not met.

The threats were taken so seriously by Tesco that the company manufactured 100,000 special reward cards to be used in cash machines.

Dyer had demanded they be placed in every copy of the local paper on a specific date.

Blackmailer's 'mistakes'

His first blackmail letter, read out in court, stated: "Follow my instructions or your customers will be at risk.

"It is not my wish to hurt anyone but I will do whatever is necessary to get what I want."

Mr Hope said that Dyer, who lived with his two teenaged daughters, had tried to cover his tracks by wearing kitchen gloves when handling letters and mainly using water to fix on stamps to avoid DNA evidence.

But from the moment his campaign began Dyer made mistakes.

The blackmailer left a copy of his first demand letter in a newsagents and then, police suspected, tried to set fire to the postbox he had used to destroy the letter.

All the letters were signed Sally and headed with the misspelling "without predujice".

Party poppers

Three Tesco customers who were sent letter bombs during the campaign had a lucky escape after the parcels were held at a sorting office because they did not have enough stamps on them.

But in September last year one couple in their seventies from Bournemouth opened a parcel from Dyer containing a cassette case that exploded in the woman's face, leaving the couple terrified.

More letters were sent making demands that police described as similar to those of previous blackmailers.

These included the Mardi Gra bomber Edgar Pearce, as well as Witchelo, a serving police officer at the time he planted razor blades in baby food and mercury in a tin of beans.

They were not devices intended to harm. The chances of people being harmed were small

Richard Onslow,
The police investigation, Operation Hornbill, was one of the largest ever undertaken in the UK.

Officers, communicating with Dyer through personal advertisements and coded messages in the local paper, were able to monitor a post box frequently used by the blackmailer.

After tracing 38 people who used it on the day a blackmail letter was sent, officers visited Dyer at his home in February this year. They arrested him after finding a new letter on his computer screen.

Richard Onslow, defending, said the four devices actually sent were made from the detonators of party poppers and gunpowder from a 12-bore cartridge.

He said: "They were not devices intended to harm. The chances of people being harmed were small."

But sentencing, Recorder Christopher Clarke said: "In August last year you embarked on an evil campaign of public extortion, intimidation and terror.

"You planned your crimes with devious cunning and meticulous care."

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14 Apr 99 | UK
Mardi Gra bomber jailed
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