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Chris Johnston successful in the Court of Appeal in appeal against sentence, which highlighted the lack of sentencing guidelines for blackmail.
The appellant had been sentenced to a total of seven years’ imprisonment for two offences of blackmail and one of possession of a bladed article.
He’d been in a six years’ relationship with a woman and had become controlling and obsessive in his behaviour towards her. After she ended it, he stalked her online and bombarded her with calls and messages. He then demanded £10,000 from her for monies he’d spent on them and posted a long rambling document on social media about her, her friends and family, ending with a link to an intimate sexual video of her. A month later, with no money paid he tricked her into stopping in a layby on the pretext of handing over some belongings and she let him sit in her car. He suddenly produced a knife and what looked like a sawn-off shotgun in a bag. He locked the doors, snatched her phone and said he’d written their mutual suicide notes and that she would be dead by the morning unless she sent several thousand pounds to his bank account. He detained her for six hours before he was emotionally overcome and she saw the chance to persuade him to calm down and let her go. Once arrested, police found the makeshift gun-shaped contraption in the boot of his car. His phone revealed the blackmail messages and multiple other harassing messages, some just as before arrest.
He had pleaded guilty at trial receiving limited credit for doing so. He had a caution for harassing his former wife in which he used repeated and abusive communications. The second blackmail was treated as a robbery because of the weapons, threats to kill, the demands for money with menaces and long false imprisonment. Counsel invited the CCA to distinguish the case with the authorities the sentencing judge relied on (R v Casbolt  EWCA Crim 1377 and A.G. Ref No. 36 of 2016 Mincher EWCA Crim. 152).The court was reminded of the case of R v Manning EWCA Crim. 592, the need to reflect the current prison circumstances during the pandemic and the psychological effects on vulnerable inmates. The CCA ruled that while the judge was correct to reflect the grave nature of these offences and pass consecutive sentences it accepted appeal submissions and reduced the first blackmail term by half to one of 18 months making the total term reduced from 7 years to 51/2 years.
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