Page last updated at 12:10 GMT, Saturday, 26 July 2008 13:10 UK

Paramilitary plot pair remanded

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Sharon Hall reports from Belfast Magistrates Court.

Two men have been remanded after they were charged with involvement in a republican paramilitary extortion plot.

John Gerard Stitt, 33, of Laburnam Park, Dunmurry, and Michael Patrick Walsh, 29, from Moira Court, Belfast, appeared in court on Saturday.

Both were charged with blackmailing 25,000 from a man known only as Witness A.

Belfast Magistrates Court heard they claimed to be from the INLA or the IRA and threatened to shoot the man.

This took place over a period between 29 February and 23 July.

The men were also charged with inviting Witness A to provide money, which they knew or suspected would be used for terrorist purposes.

A detective constable told the court he believed he could connect each of the men to the charges.

He also said the men alleged that their victim had been dealing in drugs, had been in cahoots with loyalists and had profited by 60,000 and that they wanted their share of the profits.

Witness A went to the police last month and officers subsequently recorded a total of 21 phone conversations, eight meetings and 13 text messages between Witness A and Mr Stitt. The officer added that police believed Mr Walsh was also at the meetings.

The officers further revealed that in mid-June, a bomb exploded in the back yard of Witness A's north Belfast home and added that police believe this was used as a "lever" to force him to pay over the cash.

On Thursday (July 23), an arrangement was made that Witness A would meet Mr Stitt and hand over 7,500.

The court heard that after the pair had a brief conversation, Mr Walsh turned-up and then the police arrived and arrested the two men.

Interference

Objecting to a bail application, made on behalf of Mr Stitt, the police officer said he believed that "at the very least" he was associated with a paramilitary grouping and also that there was a risk of witnesses being interfered with.

During cross examination by Mr Stitt's solicitor, it was put to the officer that in fact Witness A had approached Mr Stitt through a third party and that Mr Stitt was trying to help his alleged victim, but the officer said he "didn't see it like that".

Refusing the bail application, the judge said she had "grave concerns" about the risk of witness interference and therefore felt obliged to refuse bail, but told Mr Stitt he could appeal her decision at the High Court.

Mr Stitt and Mr Walsh were remanded into custody to appear again via videolink on 12 August.



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