Court: Three involved in extortion campaign

William Robinson.
William Robinson.

A former Church of Ireland church warden who admitted his role in a blackmail plot to extort £6,000 from a north Antrim businessman told cops who quizzed him he had a second mobile phone that he used it to arrange affairs with other woman which he described as “dirty dicking”.

William Ian Robinson (38) was one of three people who have admitted their roles in an extortion campaign where the victims feared they were being intimidated by the UVF in the Ballymoney area, Antrim Crown Court in Coleraine heard on Wednesday.

David Kealey.

David Kealey.

A businessman fled his home for England but when he returned he was told he should pay up or “get done”.

However, police were informed and and after a package containing thousands of pounds was taken from the businessman at a meeting in the car park of the Logan’s shopping complex near Cloughmills, a ‘sting’ swung into operation.

Robinson, and David Kealey (35), who both gave their addresses as c/o Maghaberry Prison, along with Kealey’s partner Theresa Karina Letters (36), of Castle Place in the Heights area of Coleraine, admitted their parts.

Robinson pleaded guilty to charges of blackmail, intimidation, attempted intimidation and falsely saying bombs were going to explode at the homes of three men.

Kealey admitted blackmail and aiding and abetting inmidation while Letters pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting blackmail.

Prosecutor Neil Connor said on November 15, 2013, a phone call was made to Samaritans in Brighton, England, when a man with a Northern Ireland accent said: “This is a death threat against four people in the area of Balnamore, Ballymoney. They have 48 hours to get out, it is concerning drugs. This is the UVF.”

Police identified three people - Conor McClean, John McGaughey and Damien McAteer - who had no connection with drugs, and told them of the death threats prompting Mr McClean and his partner to leave home and go to England for ten days before he returned home to continue running his business.

Mr Connor said the phonecall was traced to a sim card belonging to Robinson and the only link between the defendant and the three people was that Robinson believed his son was being raised by Mr McGaughey “as his own” as part of a relationship with his former partner.

On December 13, 2013, Robinson made a call to Samaritans in Londonderry saying he was from the UVF and that bombs were left at the homes of the three men. Police searched the areas but nothing was found.

Mr Connor said Robinson, Kealey or Letters have no links with the UVF but the name was used to “add extra menace” to the threats.

He said Robinson had originally intended to scare Mr McGaughey but so as the threat would not be linked back to him he randomly selected the two other men as a “smokescreen”.

Mr Connor said when it was realised that Mr McGaughey’s employer Mr McClean was taking the threats seriously a plot was hatched to blackmail him into handing over “easy money” and a series of calls and texts were made to the businessman in the run-up to Christmas, 2013.

A call was made by Kealey to Mr McClean again, wrongly, accusing him of being involved in drug dealing, “piggy-backing” on the case of a Mr Short who was shot by loyalist paramilitaries, according to Mr Connor, in a punishment-style attack in Ballymoney in 2013 inby loyalists.

Mr McClean was told his name was on top of a paramilitary list and the only way to get off the list was to hand over £6,000 or he would “get a visit”.

He was later told he would “get done”. Mr McClean said he did not have the cash but after being told to “throw them a bone” Mr McClean was ordered to go to Logan’s carpark, Cloughmills, on Christmas Eve where, as police watched on, £500 was given to Kealey.

Police did not move in at that stage and Mr McClean received a text saying: “You have bought yourself a bit of crime, enjoy your Christmas”.

Mr McClean was away over Christmas and when he returned in January more threats came by text saying:”We will be down your way with other people” and after being told cars were at his parents house a caller told the businessman: “These people know everything”.

Mr McClean was again told to go to Logan’s carpark and after handing over £4,000 in a package to Kealey, who was disguising his face, he was told there had better be “no surprises” but police swooped and caught Kealey “red-handed” and also Letters who was across the road in a vehicle. Robinson was arrested in Ballymoney.

The court was told Mr McClean is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Kealey’s defence barrister said his client has written a letter to apologise to the victim in which he said he was “ashamed” and begged for forgiveness.

He said Kealey got involved to get cash to pay off a drugs debt.

Robinson’s barrister said his client had worked or the North-Eastern Education Board but became depressed after allegedly being bullied at work and began taking drugs.

It was revealed Robinson was a Church of Ireland church warden between 2005-07 and the minister of the Aghadowey parish in County Londonderry, Rev Louise Crawford-McCafferty, took to the stand to say he was well-liked in the role and that she was “completely bowled over” when she heard of his involvement in the blackmail case but that she continues to visit him in jail.

Neil Connor told the minister she was talking about the same man who said he kept a second phone to conduct “affairs with women” which the defendant had called “dirty dicking” and said he didn’t strike him as being an obvious choice to be a church warden.

The minister said she was not making excuses for him but “everybody can change”.

Letters’ barrister said her client, a hotel worker, played a minor role although she accepted that when she drove her partner Kealey to Cloughmills she knew he had criminal intent.

Robinson and Kealey, who had been in Maghaberry on remand for 434 days up to last Wednesday, were returned to custody and Letters was released on continuing bail ahead of sentencing.