A thug who faked an army career to try and get a lighter sentence for blackmailing a ‘vulnerable’ man has had his jail term cut on appeal.
Matthew James Ford ‘bled dry’ his victim, who he had sold drugs to, extorting £12,000 from him and threatening to harm him and his family if he didn’t pay up.
After his victim finally went to the police, Ford claimed he had served as a soldier for 10 years – but this was a lie and his deception was discovered.
The 33-year-old, of Barry Close, Ellesmere Port, was jailed for eight years at Durham Crown Court in November 2013, after being found guilty of blackmail.
But his sentence was today cut to seven years by judges sitting at London’s Criminal Appeal Court, who said the original term was ‘too long’.
The court heard Ford sold cocaine to the victim, who spent about £1,000-a-month with him.
However, when the victim ran into financial difficulty towards the end of 2011, Ford would escort him to the bank before making him withdraw cash.
By 2012, the ‘large, well-built and imposing’ Ford had convinced the victim – described as a ‘timid individual’ – to set up a regular bank transfer to him.
His threats and intimidation became a campaign of terror after the victim lost his job in November 2012.
Ford threatened to break his arms and legs and to firebomb his house.
He also issued threats of violence against the victim’s father and sister, all the while knowing the victim would be ‘reluctant’ to go to police because of his drug taking.
The victim, who was so distressed he took an overdose, eventually reported the blackmail at Chester-le-Street police station and Ford was arrested.
In a bid to get a lighter sentence, he claimed he had served in numerous war zones during a 10-year army career – when in fact he had lasted just 75 days in the forces before he was dismissed after stealing from fellow soldiers.
His lie was exposed following an investigation and the crown court judge said this web of lies shattered the illusion that Ford, who also had previous convictions for harrassment, had any remorse for his actions.
Challenging his sentence, Ford’s lawyers argued it was over the top in light of the fact he did not use any physical violence against the victim or his family.
His barrister, Jim Harrison, said: “In this case, lengthy, unpleasant and enduring though the blackmail was, there was no actual violence inflicted.”
Allowing the appeal, Lord Justice Treacy said Ford’s crimes were so serious that a ‘severe’ sentence was justified, but that eight years was excessive.
Sitting with Mr Justice Stewart and Mrs Justice Simler, he added: “In this case, the threats – although not put into force – were repeated over a long period of time and involved other people than the immediate victim.
“Moreover, the effect of the demands had been that the victim lost all of his available money and that he and others were considerably distressed.
“We view this as a very bad case and it is compounded by Ford’s record for harrassment of others.
“However, after careful consideration, we are persuaded that the sentence of eight years was too long.
“This case called for a severe sentence, and we consider that a term of seven years fulfils that requirement.
“The term passed below, in our judgment, went beyond that.”