Northern Ireland

Ransom money used to free kidnap victim lost

A 100,000 euros ransom left at a racecourse to secure the release of a kidnapped cattle dealer has disappeared, the High Court has heard.

A judge was told the money had not been recovered despite Irish police being alerted before the drop-off took place in County Meath.

Details emerged as Robert McLean, of Winters Gardens, Omagh, was bailed.

The 18-year-old was accused of being part of a gang involved in the extortion plot.

He is charged with with blackmail and kidnapping.

The victim, originally from the Irish Republic but now living in Essex, was allegedly lured to Northern Ireland last month, thinking he was coming to view a meat factory near Ballymena, County Antrim.

A business associate who accompanied him on the ferry from Scotland is accused of being involved in the abduction.

Instead of travelling to the boning plant, the pair were met by another suspect who drove them towards Omagh, County Tyrone.

They were said to have stopped at a farmhouse where the victim was handed over to six to eight masked men armed with a shotgun and baseball bats.

It was claimed that one of the men told him: "You owe 400,000 euros for cattle."

He was driven away, tied up, had a hood placed on his head and was held in a refrigeration container for up to five days in a remote area six miles outside Castlederg.

A phone call was made to the victim's father in the Irish Republic, initially demanding 400,000 euros for his release.

Tessa Kitson, prosecuting, said the demand and threats were reported to Irish police, who launched a kidnapping investigation.

Following a further exchange of telephone calls the ransom was reduced to 100,000 euros.

Mrs Kitson said the victim's father withdrew the money from his bank and dropped it off at Bellewstown Racecourse on 5 October.

"That money has never been recovered," said added.

A day later the victim was released in Drogheda, County Louth.

The judge hearing the bail application, Mr Justice Weir, sought confirmation that Irish police were informed about the kidnapper's phone call.

He asked: "How did it end up the money was left at a racecourse and disappeared?"

Mrs Kitson replied that police have been unable to assist her about that.

"This is the early stages of this inquiry which involves very serious offences," she added.

It was alleged that Mr McLean was involved in getting food for the victim during the time he was held captive.

Mr Justice Weir ruled that he could be granted bail on the same conditions as a 17-year-old co-accused released earlier this week.

Mr McLean is to put up a £2,000 cash surety and will be electronically monitored and curfewed at night.

The judge stressed that bail was conditional on the accused's girlfriend agreeing to him living at her address.