Blackmail and extortion
Blackmail is demanding something from someone and then gaining from this demand. The demand must be unwarranted and ‘with menaces' a threat from the blackmailer to do something for not agreeing to the demand. The threat doesn't have to be something illegal and doesn't even have to be true. An example would be demanding £200 from someone in order to refrain from telling the world of their past adultery, previous criminal record or adultery.
There is a defence if the demand is made on reasonable grounds and the threat is a proper way to make the demand. This exists to cover those chasing legal debts such as banks when they send letters threatening repossession of a home unless they get paid.
Extortion is similar to blackmail. It involves obtaining money, property or services from another through threats of physical harm: €œpay up or else€ is an example. Protection rackets are a form of extortion.
Blackmail and extortion can range from the low level example given above, to cases involving political figures involved in bribery and organised crime. All cases are dealt with only in the Crown Court. The maximum sentence is 14 years.
Kidnap is the forcible and unlawful detention of another against their will. It is a common law offence and the key part is that it is unwanted act on the part of the victim. It is a restriction on someone else's liberty by force and for this reason it is a serious charge.
In a kidnap case expert evidence can be very important. If rope or tape is used as evidence of hands being bound, skin, DNA and fibre analysis can disprove this. Cell site analysis can be used on mobile phones to prove where and when someone was. Also, CCTV evidence can be used to back up someone's case. If this is not seized by the police then we can submit an abuse of process application and have the case thrown out.
If a kidnap occurs in the context of a sexual offence, then it is the sexual offence that would be charged. The kidnap would become an aggravating feature for sentencing.
Threats to kill
Threatening to kill someone is a criminal offence. The other person must genuinely fear it will be carried out. Throwaway comments not said seriously muttered between friends and associates will not therefore be an offence. Where the victim fears for their life and safety however an offence will have been committed. Proving a threat to kill is difficult and more often than not it is simply a case of one person's word against another's.
There is a defence to this charge that there is a lawful excuse for making the threat. If the threat was made in a self-defence situation then this may be a lawful excuse. A person may make such a threat to prevent crime and defend themselves or another.
The maximum sentence for making a threat to kill is 10 years in jail.
A threat aimed at a particular person of violence in general rather than specifically to kill is a much lesser offence and represents an alternative charge. Other alternatives are affray or using threatening words or behaviour. Lazy prosecution can sometimes mean people are charged inappropriately. We can investigate the circumstances and in some situations we can negotiate for alternative charges which are more suitable, such as public order offences.
Kidnap is dealt with only by the Crown Court because of its seriousness. Sentence depends on the facts.
If violence or a firearm was used or the victim was held for a long time, then the normal sentence is over 8 years imprisonment. An example of this would be something on the scale of the Alan Johnson kidnapping in Gaza. In a kidnapping which is carefully planned or where ransom money is demanded, the sentence will be around 8 years. A plan to take hostage someone's son and get £5000 in ransom would be along these lines.
For smaller scale kidnaps, then the guideline is a sentence of around 18 months. An example might be in a domestic scenario where someone is locked in a room after a row. If someone has been suffering from stress or has a mental illness, a blackmail solicitor can often use these as points in mitigation for the client.