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Blackmailers spared long jail term to save jobs for Ulster community 
24th-Feb-2009 08:26 pm
Pair will spend one year in prison instead of maximum of 14 for threatening a business associate

Henry McDonald in Belfast
Tuesday 24 February 2009

In these recession-hit times it seems a rural community in Northern Ireland needs even criminals to help keep the economy afloat. Two County Derry men who were convicted of blackmail have been given short sentences because the judge believed longer jail terms would cost their community jobs.

The pair will spend just one year in prison instead of the maximum 14 years for blackmailing a business associate. Patrick Magowan, 46, and Brian Conwell, 32, had threatened to shoot their business partner after a dispute.

There were allegations in court that they had used the name of a terror group, the Irish National Liberation Army, to frighten their former colleague who was unnamed in the trial. It has since transpired that the INLA had no involvement in the blackmail plot.

But the judge, Justice Burgess, imposed a one-year sentence on the pair because the community of Claudy relied heavily on them for jobs.

The court was told the victim was threatened with a gun and told he would be shot if he did not hand over £8,000.

Conwell pleaded guilty to five counts of blackmail on dates between 3 July and 31 August 2006, as well as a charge of possessing a gun or imitation gun. Magowan admitted to one count of blackmail and one of conspiring to commit blackmail.

Burgess said having heard evidence that Conwell was the "driving force" behind their business, Castleview Partitions, with Magowan as the contracts manager, their imprisonment for an extended period would "give rise to a real danger of the loss of employment of others" who mostly come from the Claudy area. He added that the 12-month jail terms would "give a clear message that behaviour like this is simply unacceptable".
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