"Investor sent bodybuilder round to collect money"
Property tycoon and former Leeds United football club director Simon Morris recruited a 21 stone bodyguard to recover a loan from a former business partner, a blackmail trial was told.
Morris was involved in Morris Properties, specialising in residential property for students and young professionals in Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Cardiff; another firm called First City Rentals and around 100 other property firms.
He allegedly sent bodybuilder John Ashworth to see Hedley Manton to persuade him to hand over £100,000, which he had given his former partner to help him buy a house.
Their relationship soured and the loan was unpaid after a property firm in Leeds collapsed.
Morris, 34, and Ashworth, 51, each deny a charge of conspiracy to commit blackmail at Newcastle Crown Court. Ashworth also denies an alternative charge of blackmail.
Simon Batiste, prosecuting, told the court: “Morris was a highly successful businessman. However, by 2009 his business empire was imploding. In April 2009, a bankruptcy petition was presented with sums against him around £3.5 million.
“He was desperately trying to avoid being made bankrupt and the Crown say that was the motivation behind Mr Morris conspiring with Mr Ashworth to blackmail the complainant to recover a sum of money that he perceived that he was owed to try to stave off his creditors.”
Ashworth made three visits to Manton – and was arrested on the third.
The court heard he carefully picked his words when speaking to Manton. He suggested he had spent time in jail for firearms offences and warned that he would do “whatever is necessary to get the money back” while going on to say “if I needed to, I could come over there and stab you.”
Manton told the court that Ashworth was “enormous” and he was worried about “repercussions” if he did not meet the bodyguard.
“I felt that if I didn’t agree to it, things could escalate and get much worse,” he said.
The trial continues.