Tabloids rejected Royal 'blackmail' approaches

The Old Bailey has heard how tabloid newspapers rejected the approaches of a pair of man apparently trying to blackmail a member of the Royal Family.

The £50,000 blackmail plot involved claims the performed a gay sex act on one of his employees, a court heard.

Ian Strachan, 31, and Sean McGuigan, 41, tried to sell the tapes to a series of tabloid newspapers and the publicist Max Clifford, the Old Bailey was told.

But when those attempts failed they turned their attentions to the married royal, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and tried to blackmail him, it is alleged.

The employee, said to be his “right hand man”, was also recorded taking drugs and making “scandalous” remarks about other royals, a jury heard.

They pair were arrested after a meeting in a London hotel with a man they thought was an aide to the royal but was in fact an undercover police officer, jurors heard.

Strachan, of Imperial Wharf, Fulham, south west London, and McGuigan, of Latchmere Road, Battersea, south London, deny the charge that they made “an unwarranted demand with menaces” of £50,000.

They are said to have recorded eight hours of audio and video footage of the royal’s employee, in which he made “allegations of impropriety” about his boss’s business practices as well as claims about other royals.

The man, known as witness D, was also filmed using a Harrods card to take cocaine, jurors were told.

Strachan and McGuigan made the recordings in early 2007 and between March and July that year approached a number of newspapers asking for a “substantial sum” to sell the story to them, the court heard.

Prosecutor Mark Ellison said: “The identity of those who featured in the material, as well as the salacious content of it, was clearly recognised to be integral to its value or ‘selling point’.”

Strachan told a News of the World reporter that it involved the royal’s “right hand man”.

But although at first interested that newspaper, as well as the Sun, the Sunday Express and the Mail on Sunday – the latter contacted via the offices of Max Clifford – all rejected the story.

The royal, who can be described only as witness A, was on holiday with his family in France when the alleged blackmailers turned their attentions to him, the jury was told.

A man calling himself “Kent Logan”, using Strachan’s mother’s phone, called A’s personal assistant in July 2007, and said in a “threatening” manner: “If he knows what’s good for him he will ring me back.”

Unbeknown to the two men, British police were became involved and “Paul”, who they met at the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane on September 11, was an undercover officer and wearing a concealed recording device.

The audio and video tapes, which had been recorded on a mobile phone and downloaded to a computer, were played to Paul, who at one point complained he was finding it hard to understand what was being said.

Strachan summarised one remark, saying: “He just said that [witness A]’s a bit gay there.”

He promised to sign a waiver if the money was handed over and also falsely claimed that the News of the World had offered £250,000, jurors were told.

When arrested at the end of the meeting, Strachan immediately said “It wasn’t blackmail” then gave “no comment” interviews.

McGuigan claimed to police they had first decided to film witness D to catch him out because he had been spiking people’s drinks with Rohypnol to have sex with them. Strachan also made similar claims about D.

The suspects came to the meeting with D with faked documents, including a contract altered to look like the News of the World had agreed to pay £250,000 to “back up” their blackmail bid, Mr Ellison said.

They also had a business card from Nicola Phillips who works at Max Clifford Associates.

The jury was read excerpts from the conversation.

Paul said: “Now, what if I purchase this media, how do I know that it’s not going to appear elsewhere?”

Strachan said: “Cos I’ll sign you off a waiver immediately.”

McGuigan also said: “Well, we could have gone to other places Paul.

Strachan added: “Yeah. I mean to be honest Paul I’ve got a contract in my pocket and I’ve got Max Clifford’s card.”

Strachan claimed that he had “told him bits and pieces” but not allowed him to hear the recordings.

McGuigan went on to claim that the News of the World had described it as “the best thing that’s come in this year”.

The men also pledged that they would not leak the information elsewhere if the deal was struck.

Paul noted: “If this media is elsewhere and it turns up, there is nothing I can do about it.”

Strachan responded: “It’s nowhere else…. It’s there and it’s here (meaning on a laptop and discs). If I wanted to do that then I would have just gone ahead in the first place.”

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