Men Jailed For Blackmail

Gang jailed for more than 9 years for making threats of violence against victim and his family

Four men who conspired to demand £400,000 from a businessman by making threats of violence towards him and his family have been jailed for more than nine years.

Lakhbir Bhana, aged 41, of Cimba Wood, Gravesend; John Francis Phillips, aged 49 of Kennet Walk, Reading; Surjit Bhalla, aged 29, of Weir Place, Staines and Ajmal Ellahi aged 34 of Ryland Street, Birmingham, were all found guilty of conspiracy to blackmail on 26 July 2010.

Honour Judge St John-Stevens sentenced the men on 20 October at Maidstone Crown Court. In his summing up he commended officers on the manner in which they dealt with such a "complex investigation" in order to bring the four men to justice.

During the trial the jury heard how the men used mobile phones to communicate and conduct the blackmail against Colin Basi, a managing director of Medway-based KKB Haulage, a construction business, who they claimed owned them money.

Detective Sergeant Gary Scarfe, of the Major Crime Department of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: “The sentencing today is the conclusion of an attempt to blackmail a businessman using threats of extreme violence and firearms against the victim and his family, to enforce the demands.

“These men were prepared to go to great lengths in order to obtain a large sum of money they believed they were entitled to.

“Kent Police will endeavour to bring to justice those who think they can threaten violence to achieve their goals. This is a terrible psychological crime aimed at intimidating victims into co-operating with the demands being made.

“Mr Basi contacted Kent Police in the first instance. I would urge any victims subjected to any blackmail demands to contact the police as soon as possible in order to identify and bring to justice those responsible.”

Bhana and Bhalla were sentenced to two years and four months each; and Ellahi and Phillips to two years and six months each.

The court heard how the four men engaged in an elaborate conspiracy to obtain money from Mr Basi.

Lakhbir Bhana is the director of Dyneema, a Gravesend construction company that carried out works for KKB.

Bhana, nicknamed ‘Lucky’, believed Mr Basi’s firm owed him money for works carried out in 2007 and took out an adjudication against him that he lost.

In 2008, the adjudication found in favour of KKB, and Dyneema was ordered to pay £60,000 costs.

The court was told in 2009 Bhana was not satisfied with the adjudication result and stated he would get his money one way or the other. He enlisted the help of associate Ajmal Ellahi in tracing a so-called debt collector willing to visit Mr Basi and demand the money.

Ellahi met with old associate Bhalla in what he claimed was a ‘chance meeting’ in Staines in June 2009. It was during this meeting that Bhalla suggested a man called John Phillips to act as a bailiff.

Bodybuilder Phillips was known to Bhalla from a previous encounter and was nick named ‘Mad Jack’ and ‘Rambo’.

Bhana wanted £340,000 for the disputed cost of works Dyneema had undertaken in 2007 and the £60,000 adjudication costs, although he denied this.

Mobile phone records show all four men were in contact before, during and following the conspiracy.

Phillips, who is heavily scarred including a scar from his eye to his jaw, visited Mr Basi at the KKB site and said he was from Belfast and worked ‘for the firm’, implying he was a member of the IRA.

The court was told that three men had conspired together to use Phillips as ‘muscle’ in making demands with menaces from Mr Basi that would leave him in fear for the safety of himself and his family and be forced to pay them either the £400,000 in total or at least the £60,000 deemed to be the cost of the adjudication.

Phillips threatened that if Mr Basi failed to pay, he would go to the home address with firearms and use violence against Mr Basi and his family.

On 19 June, Phillips was arrested in Reading. Two days later Bhalla and Bhanna were arrested in Staines and Gravesend and later all three were charged with conspiracy to blackmail.

It was not until October 2009 that the police finally caught up with Ellahi who had been evading capture. He was interviewed and charged with the same offence

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