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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

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Cumbrian burglar's attempted blackmail over cannabis find

A burglar who broke into a shed and found cannabis plants threatened to shop the owner to police unless he paid him £2,000.

“Inept” blackmailer Matthew Kyle Johnstone sent a letter to the Carlisle homeowner 10 months later, threatening to tell police about his plants and demanding cash.

Carlisle Crown Court heard how the 18-year-old – a one-time heavy cannabis user himself – forced open a shed door and escaped with £900 of power tools, together with some plants last January. The homeowner reported the burglary – but not the loss of the plants – to police.

Ten months later, last November, he received a letter from the burglar, threatening to go to the police unless he paid the money by 3pm that day. The letter included a mobile number – Johnstone’s own, the court heard – and said the man was being watched and not to throw out any replacement plants.

No money was paid and the police received three phone calls about the plants. One of the officers recognised Johnstone’s voice as he had been dealing with him on an unrelated matter in which he was a victim.

Defence solicitor Martin Wales told the court it was a childish and very amateurish blackmail attempt.

“It was perhaps the most inept attempt in history,” he said. “The letter had no effect on the victim and it had his mobile phone number on it. Tracing him was not very difficult.”

Mr Wales said Johnstone, of Adelphi Terrace, Currock, had had contact with his mother completely severed two years ago and had been “totally abandoned, leaving him with his grandparents and his father”.

“He turned to drugs and began abusing cannabis very heavily indeed,” he said. “He is now suffering with mental health issues and auditory hallucinations.”

He said Johnstone’s grandmother then died and “things came to a head”. “She was the point on which he relied,” he said. “His behaviour and his mental health spiralled down”.

Mr Wales said Johnstone broke into the shed “on the spur of the moment”.

Recorder Abigail Hudson told Johnstone he had a “fairly horrific” record.

“Since March 2012, you have been on something of a rampage of criminal activity,” she said. “In 2011 your mother made some disclosures which were profoundly upsetting and a lot of your recent behaviour is down to that emotional distress.”

She sentenced him to 14 weeks in custody for the burglary, plus 26 for blackmail, suspended for two years. Johnstone, who admitted both offences, was also ordered to complete a drugs awareness course and given a 9pm to 7am curfew for four months, plus a £80 victim surcharge.

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