Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Thursday, 8 January 2009

Man shocked by 'IRA blackmail'

Southwark Crown Court
The jury heard details of the two men's backgrounds

A former Sinn Fein supporter has told a court of being left "shocked and devastated" after becoming the victim of an alleged blackmail plot.

The businessman, who cannot be named, said he was accused of betraying the IRA and given a week to pay 150,000.

The 39-year-old father-of-two and another man were allegedly blackmailed by former IRA prisoners Nick Mullen, 60, and Ronald McCartney, 59.

Both deny the charges against them at London's Southwark Crown Court.

A third man, Louis O'Hara, 43, from Loughton, Essex, also denies two counts of conspiracy to blackmail between 1 January and 16 April 2008.

All three are accused of "conspiring together and with others to make, with a view to gain for themselves or another, unwarranted demands for payment of monies in the sum of 150,000 with menaces".

'Shocked'

The businessman told the jury he was accused of using the IRA's name to raise millions of pounds for his own gain.

He insisted there was "absolutely no truth" in the allegation and said he was left "completely devastated, shocked and confused... because for the last so many years of my life I had assisted Sinn Fein and had known many Sinn Fein members very well".

I took that to mean there would be nowhere me and my family would find safety
39-year-old businessman
Alleged blackmail victim

He said he had become involved with the Wolfe Tone Society in London, described as a "support group for Sinn Fein", after moving from Belfast to London in his early twenties.

His duties included "organising vehicles and commissioning drivers" for "senior party members and officials," he said.

Prosecutors say the defendants issued threats to their alleged victims via telephone calls, letters and visits.

In one letter, read to the court on Tuesday, they were allegedly told: "If you involve the police or anyone else then Fort Knox will not be safe for either you or your extended family."

When asked what he took this to mean, the businessman said: "I took it... there was a very serious threat to me and my family.

"I took that to mean there would be nowhere me and my family would find safety."

The businessman told the court he received a call in March last year from someone with a Northern Ireland accent.

He said the caller identified himself as "a representative of Oglaigh na h-Eireann", Irish for the IRA. The name "P O'Neill", the group's nom de guerre, was also mentioned.

"He went on to say, 'We know what you have been up to'," the businessman told the court.

When he tried to ask questions, he said he was told: "Listen, if you don't be quiet people will be round to see you."

Robert McCartney in 1976
Ronald McCartney was convicted of attempted murder in 1976

He added: "At the end of the call all I could think of was my family, my children.

"I thought it was a very serious threat. I was confused, shocked and decided to call my friends. I also spoke to the police."

Three days later, a letter arrived which referred to a "prolonged and intensive" IRA investigation which had "established" that he and his business partner had abused the "position of trust" he had once enjoyed in the "Republican Movement".

Attempted murder

Mark Heyward, prosecuting, told the court on Tuesday that the defendants claimed the two men had raised 6m using the name of the IRA and they the men "would have to contribute in the sums demanded or face the consequences".

He said the letters and calls were "intended to instil sufficient reaction, sufficient fear" to force them to hand over the money.

The jury has been told some aspects of the defendants' backgrounds.

Mr McCartney was convicted at Winchester Crown Court in 1976 of the attempted murders of three policemen.

He was also found guilty of conspiracy to cause explosions and firearms charged, all of which, the prosecution said, related "to his activities as a part of his membership of the IRA".

Mr Mullen, meanwhile, was convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment in June 1990.

His conviction was later quashed on appeal.

The trial continues.



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