'blackmail plot' | 

Two loyalists accused of threating to shoot victim and his family if he didn’t pay £5,000

Forensic tests on cigarette butts at the scene uncovered their respective DNA profiles

Stephan McLaughlin (left) and Jonathan Sterling.

Paul HigginsSunday Life

Two alleged gangsters have been ordered to stand trial accused of a loyalist blackmail plot.

Stephan McLaughlin (40) and Jonathan Sterling (36) are both charged with blackmail and appeared in person and stood side-by-side in court in Antrim last week.

It’s alleged that in November last year, they demanded £5,000 “with menaces” from their alleged victim.

At one stage during the hearing Sterling had to be told by the judge to take “his hands out of his pockets’’, opting instead to stand with his arms folded over his grey tracksuit.

Previous hearings have heard claims that the victim was in his Antrim home when he answered the door to two men who told him he had 48 hours to cough up £5,000 to the UDA or either he, or his family, would be shot.

In an exchange captured on CCTV, McLaughlin and Sterling allegedly told the complainant they had been sent by an unnamed man who “is the west Belfast UDA”.

A police officer outlined how the victim had also been told that “if they couldn’t get him then they would harm his family.”

He further claimed that during an exchange at the front door, he asked the men what the money was for, but was told to “never mind what for.”

“The victim made a reference to another third party from the Shankill Road and said he would contact that person by phone… and ask him about this to which the defendants said, ‘Who do you think sent us’,” said the detective.

“The victim has gone on to ask has this third party sent you or is it west Belfast UDA to which the defendant McLaughlin said this third party ‘is the west Belfast UDA’.”

At one stage, McLaughlin received a phone call and the victim has claimed he recognised the voice of the “third party” talking on the other end before he and Sterling exchanged phone numbers.

The court heard that when the men were leaving, the man asked them “where will I get £5,000 from” and was told “we don’t give a f*** where you get it — just get it.”

It was also said that the alleged victim “has identified the males as two individuals that he has known from the Shankill Road area of Belfast” while forensic tests on cigarette butts at the scene uncovered their respective DNA profiles.

Belfast men McLaughlin, from Columbia Street, and Sterling, from the West Circular Road, denied involvement during police interviews.

But during the brief hearing at Ballymena courthouse on Tuesday, their defence solicitors agreed there was a prima facie case against the alleged extortionists.

Both men were told that although not obliged to, they had the right to comment on the charge and to call evidence on their own behalves but they declined the opportunity.

Returning the case to Antrim Crown Court for trial, the judge freed the pair on continuing bail with their arraignment to be heard next month.

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