A terrified father was dragged from his bed by masked men who threatened to cut off his ears and fingers with his own bread knife.
The violent blackmailers armed themselves with knives from Mark Archer’s own kitchen, held them to his throat and threatened to throw him in the canal if he didn't pay £5,000.
The father-of-one genuinely believed that former soldier John McHugh and Steven Randles were going to kill him as they held him hostage at his home in Cherry Road, Boughton.
McHugh, 21, and Randles, 29, pre-planned the ‘chilling’ ambush which saw them drag their terrified victim from his bed, throw him down the stairs and kick and punch him as he pleaded with them in his living room.
The former soldier, of Queensway, and Randles, of Brook Street, were jailed for eight years at Chester Crown Court today (Thursday, November 13) after carrying out the horrifying attack, which ended as they heard police sirens as they marched Mr Archer down the street with a bread knife to his throat.
The pair pleaded guilty to two counts of blackmail, one of burglary, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and possession of bladed articles following the incident, during which they even spoke to their victim’s teenage son on the phone, saying “I want five grand right now, or your dad is going to get it”.
The 56-year-old was asleep alone in his house when the former soldier – who was wearing military-style body armour – and Randles burst in just after 11pm on June 23.
The victim was held hostage in his own living room by the balaclava clad men who held him down, repeatedly punched him in the face, kicked him and threatened to torture him if he didn't pay them £5,000, the court heard.
Mr Archer was left black and blue following the attack, with swelling and bruising under his eyes, and needed stitches for a large cut on the left side of his face, running from his eyebrow down to his nose.
In a victim impact statement read out to the court, Mr Archer described how the scar was a ‘constant reminder’ of the terrifying attack, saying: “I feel totally terrified and thought they were going to kill me. They appeared more than capable of it.”
Randles and McHugh are said to have targeted the house, as they believed there was a substantial sum of money and cannabis to be stolen, which they could use to pay off drug debts.
Duncan Bold, prosecuting, described how Mr Archer was beaten as he tried to get up, and the armed men threatened to torture him with the knives, while demanding to know where the money was.
He said: “Randles’ opening comments were “I have had enough of you sunshine, get it or I am going to start by cutting your ears off”.
“I’m going to start with your ears and then cut your fingers off unless we get it sorted, and you will end up in the canal.”
And when Randles left the room McHugh, who served in Afghanistan but was medically discharged from the Army due to mental health issues, took off his balaclava, and threatened his petrified victim, saying ‘remember this face’.
“Obviously Mr Archer was terrified by this. He tried to reason with McHugh, he said he didn’t know him and asked him ‘what have I done wrong?’ – he was punched in the head and face area,” added Mr Bold, who said Randles then returned carrying the victim’s phone and demanded the money again.
Shaken, Mr Archer called his 18-year-old son Toby, who was out with his friends, to ask him if there was any money in the house, but the armed men put the phone on speaker so they could hear what was being said.
“They said ‘I want five grand right now or your dad is going to get it. You do not know what you are dealing with, you do not know what I am capable of’,” said Mr Bold.
It was then, as his frightened son contacted his mother for help, one of the armed men thrust the knife past Mr Archer’s face and plunged it into the sofa, leaving a large tear in the fabric.
The two men then led their victim from the house towards Tarvin Road, with one holding on to the top of his head while the other held a knife to his throat.
He was then pushed against the pavement and threatened by Randles who pointed the knife in his face, saying he was going to ‘get it’ if they didn’t have the money in 10 minutes.
And as the victim’s son and his mother started driving to the scene, calling the police on the way, Randles then went back to the house and stole a rucksack and a holdall.
As Randles and McHugh were trying to work out how to get him across the road without being seen, the police arrived and the duo fled. There was a short chase and Randles was found cowering behind a bin in a nearby garden, with the stolen items and white latex gloves which were used in the incident.
And when officers arrested McHugh, who joined the Army straight out of school when he was 17, he claimed he was ‘the victim’ of an attack, but when he was taken into custody he said: “It is probably one of the most stupid things I have ever done.
McHugh, who has previously been convicted of harassment, was medically discharged from the Army after trying to commit suicide as he blamed himself for the death of an Afghan while he was serving in Helmand Province, said Maria Masselis, defending, who said he was a law-abiding young man when he left school.
“He finds it difficult to explain to anyone what he did, what he saw, and what happened. He was proud to put his life on the line for his country,” she said.
“He comes to experience mental health difficulties; his account is that there is a custom, in the Army, not to speak about mental health difficulties when they arise.”
McHugh tried to commit suicide on five separate occasions, once while he was in the Army, and he was medically discharged – it was then he started using cocaine and abusing alcohol.
Ms Masselis said McHugh, who built up drug debts, ‘bitterly regretted’ what he had done, but said he had worn the body armour for ‘self defence’ claiming he thought there was a ‘crossbow inside’ – a claim which the Recorder of Chester Judge Elgan Edwards said would have been ‘laughable’ if the case wasn't so serious.
Randles, who has 17 previous convictions including arson, harassment and drug supply, suffers from epilepsy which he developed when he was 10-years-old after his head collided with a concrete post. This has produced significant challenges in his life and he regretted what he had done, said Christopher Hunt, defending.
“The duration of this offence was 30 minutes, although I am sure it felt much longer,” he added.
Sentencing the pair to a total of eight years behind bars each, Judge Edwards said: “I regard this as quite a horrifying case and the public will regard it as horrifying too.”