A THUG who demanded £1,000 from a terrified shop boss for protection was today jailed for more than three years.
John Watson, 31, threatened to kill the frightened manager and burn down the shop if he did not pay up, Teesside Crown Court heard.
Watson paid the menacing visit to the shop in Hartlepool just weeks after the victim took over running it.
As well as demanding £1,000 up front, Watson said the victim must pay him £20 a week.
The court heard Watson launched the blackmail bid after losing his job so he could buy Christmas presents for his partner and her five children.
Watson summoned the victim, who was a stranger, into a Volvo car containing other men.
The manager got in because he thought Watson was a plain-clothed police officer.
Rachel Masters, prosecuting, said: “Whilst inside the defendant said to him ‘I hear you’re the new owner.
“‘To do business in this area you have to pay protection, which is £1,000 today and £20 per week, every week, if you don’t want any trouble.’
“The victim felt scared and intimidated.”
He told Watson he did not have that sort of money, and even showed him a book of accounts.
When the victim tried to speak to another man in the car, Watson said: “I’m the boss here. I will be back on Wednesday to get the money, or I will kill you and burn the shop down.”
The victim later rang the owner of the premises, who knew the defendant as John John, and said he had given him £1,000 some time ago.
The shopkeeper then called the police and Watson, of Kendal Road, was arrested.
The court heard that in a second interview with police he said it was not blackmail, but a business deal.
He later admitted one count of blackmail.
Andrew Teate, mitigating, said Watson resorted to blackmail to pay for Christmas for his partner and her five children after losing his job.
“Having exhausted all legitimate means, he came by this idea, almost on the spur of the moment,” said Mr Teate.
“He says he never intended to carry out any of the threats he made on that day, although it’s quite clear the victim would not have known that.”
Jailing Watson for three and a half years, Recorder Bernard Gateshill said: “It seems to me this was a deliberate attempt, an organised attempt, to extract money from the shopkeeper.
“This was a serious proposition. It is so serious only a lengthy custodial sentence can be justified.
“There must be such a sentence to deter others from intimidating and terrorising local shopkeepers and business people.”