An engineer who was repairing a gas main that blew up on a business park in Whitstable is in hospital with burns to his face and legs.
Blackmailer And Arsonist Jailed
An arsonist who blackmailed a successful property developer and started a series of fires to target his victim's business and family has been jailed for an indeterminate sentence for public protection, serving a minimum of eight and half years following an investigation by the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate.
Leroy Brown, 34, of Uxbridge Road, Hanwell, West London was sentenced at Maidstone Crown Court on Monday 25 June 2012.
Detective Constable Wayne Totterdell, from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: 'This was a relentless and prolonged attempt to blackmail a businessman using an escalating series of threats and acts against the victim, his family, and their property.'
'Brown, who was unknown to the victim, was prepared to go to great lengths in order to obtain a large sum of money from him. Having initially failed to achieve this through threats, harassment, and acts of damage, he went on to commit a series of arson attacks culminating in the targeting of the victim's extended family in Kent. These actions clearly demonstrated that Brown was willing put the lives of the victim, his family, and members of the public at risk in pursuit of securing financial gain.
'Following the arson attacks in Kent, we acted swiftly to arrest Brown, secure evidence, and end the ordeal that he had put the victim and his family through.'
During a four-week trial in March, jurors at Maidstone Crown Court heard how Leroy Brown blackmailed Steven Aldridge over a period of more than two years. He, and unknown others, made menacing phone calls, distributed threatening letters and in April 2010 resorted to arson attacks on two mews houses that Mr Aldridge had developed in South Kensington in London.
A year later in May 2011 Brown struck again - first starting a fire at what he thought was Mr Aldridge's parents address in Rainham, Kent. However, Brown got the wrong address and instead targeted an innocent neighbour damaging the front of the house and a car parked outside.
Ten days later, Mr Aldridge's sister's house, also in Rainham, was targeted by Brown causing damage both to the house and the car parked outside.
The blackmail against Mr Aldridge began in 2009. At this time he was a successful property developer living with his family in South-West London.
Police believe that through information which was obtained and fed to Brown about Mr Aldridge, and his perceived wealth, Brown saw him as a target he could make money from and repeatedly demanded he pay sums up to £56,000 to him or he would target him and his family.
Brown was arrested on 29 June 2011 by the Metropolitan Police on suspicion of blackmail following reports made by Mr Aldridge. He was later released on bail.
After this, the third fire occurred at Mr Aldridge's parents' address in Rainham and he received a further threatening letter that demanded money with a deadline.
On 26 July, officers from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate arrested Brown and later charged him with arson and blackmail offences.
Brown denied any involvement with Mr Aldridge but was convicted on 27 March of blackmail and five counts of arson being reckless as to whether life is endangered.
DC Totterdell continued: 'Brown has shown no remorse in denying his guilt, but as a consequence of the complex and thorough investigation undertaken, and the courage of the victims in giving evidence he has been brought to justice.
'The offence of Blackmail is a psychological crime aimed at intimidating victims into co-operating with the demands being made. The Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate strive to bring to justice those who think they are above the law and threaten violence to achieve their goals.'
Following sentence Detective Constable Totterdell was commended by the trial judge, his honour St John-Stevens.
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