A gang pretending to be police officers kidnapped a ‘drug dealer’ and ‘Tasered his testicles’ before demanding £500,000 in cash and drugs in return for his safe release, a court heard.
Michael Etuhu, 35, a former football agent whose brothers both played for Manchester City; John Bishop, 31; Ben Ukaegbu, 38; Daniel Lowe, 27; and Nicky Barnes, 27; have all been jailed for their role in the audacious plot.
Armed police stormed the industrial unit in Gorton, where their victim was held for about 12 hours.
Another man, Micah Walfall, said to be the ‘heavy’ of the group and referred to by other offenders as ‘Big Dave’, is still wanted in connection with the incident.
While being held captive, the man had the hairs on his arm ‘singed’ and he was ‘Tasered to his testicles’.
His screams of pain could be heard by his friends and family while they were speaking with his kidnappers on the phone.
Manchester Crown Court heard the gang believed the victim was a ‘major drug dealer’ who was worth ‘millions’.
The ‘professional’ plot to snatch the man was a ‘long time in the planning’ and came after a tracking device was secreted in his car, prosecutors said.
Criminals from Manchester were behind the daring plan, but they recruited an ‘out of town’ team from the Midlands so the victim wouldn’t recognise any of his kidnappers.
They had monitored his movements for weeks and struck after he left a barbers in Hale.
“This was without doubt a sophisticated, premeditated and carefully organised criminal enterprise,” Judge Patrick Field QC said.
At about 10am on April 11 last year, the victim was approached by three men who appeared to be police officers.
They were dressed like officers on plain clothes duty, the court heard, wearing utility vests over t-shirts, jeans and trainers, as well as using earpieces.
The man was told he was under arrest on suspicion of class A drug dealing, and he was handcuffed.
Prosecuting, Henry Blackshaw said the man was not particularly surprised about this, as a friend of his had recently been charged and remanded in custody.
He was told there was no room at any police custody suites, so they stopped on a back street in Gorton.
Prosecutors said that Walfall, who was wearing a red and white skeleton face mask, then dragged the man into a van and put a hood put over his head, before a gun, a ‘realistic’ looking imitation, was aimed at his head.
The court heard that Walfall told the man: “Right then, we know who you are and what you do.
“Get us everything that we want and everything will be alright.
“We know where your wife is. Where your mum is. Where your dad is. We know where your house is.
“We can go and arrest them now if we wanted to.
“But we’ll make it easy, you tell us where everything is and we’ll let you go. Simple.”
The court heard Walfall also told him: “You know what this is about. Your people have f***** my people over.”
Then he was taken to an industrial unit a short distance away.
He was sat on a chair and handcuffed to it, and told not to look up or he would have his eyes poked out.
At the unit a cement mixer was started to drown out any noise including the man’s screams.
The court heard Walfall used a blowtorch to singe the hairs on his arm.
“How much are you getting me?,” Walfall asked him.
The man initially said £10,000, but he was told it would have to be nearer to £100,000.
Prosecutors said Walfall Tasered the man’s testicles through his clothing, Mr Blackshaw said. His arms were also Tasered.
He was also punched and slapped.
The man then had a gun pointed at his head after initially refusing to tell them the PIN for his phone.
The gang called his brother-in-law, who said he might be able to get ‘a couple, maybe eight grand’.
Walfall took the phone and told him: “This phone call’s ending.
“I’m going to give you a postcode and just come if you want to see your man here again.”
In further phone calls, the brother-in-law told the kidnappers he was struggling to get hold of money.
He was told: “Listen, if you don’t, we know where his wife is, we know where he lives.”
He alerted his sister, the victim’s wife, and she called the police.
The gang told him the ransom should be delivered to an address in Birmingham.
The demand was £500,000, with £100,000 in cash, and the rest in heroin and cocaine.
They had also called a friend who had been with him at the barbers earlier.
During that call the friend could hear screams of pain, while he was being tasered.
Walfall also said: “If you don’t come or there’s any funny business, I’ll burn his face and scar him for life. His son will find out.”
At one point, some of the gang left for Birmingham to pick up the ransom money, leaving Bishop and Ukaegbu with the gun to guard the victim.
After being informed of the kidnapping, police were able to use cell site data from mobile phones to pinpoint where he was being held.
Armed officers stormed the building at 10.30pm.
“You’ve saved my life,” the man told officers after they found him handcuffed to the chair.
He suffered minor injuries, including a bump to his head and reddening to his arm.
Bishop, of Stanley Road, Chingford, London; and Ukaegbu, of no fixed address, were both arrested.
Bishop, who helped source the fake police uniforms, told officers that the gang believed the man was a ‘major-league drug dealer’ and ‘worth millions’.
Barnes, of Byfield Road, Northampton, Etuhu, of Abbeycroft Close, Tyldesley, and Lowe, of of Greenwood Road, Northampton, were arrested later.
All five pleaded guilty to conspiracy to kidnap and conspiracy to blackmail.
Walfall is still wanted by police.
Etuhu, a ‘facilitator and organiser’ of the plot was jailed for 10 years and two months; Ukaegbu for 11 years and three months; Lowe for 10 years and six months; Barnes for 12 years; and Bishop for seven years.
The court heard the victim said he ‘used to hang around with bad people, but doesn’t any more’.
Prosecutors said the ‘organised’ and ‘professional’ plot was orchestrated by those people, knowing he may have ready access to large sums of cash.
The conspirators recruited an ‘out of town’ team to perform the hit, possibly fearing ‘repercussions’ if the victim knew who was responsible, the court heard.
All defendants other than Etuhu are not based around Manchester.
Etuhu, a father-of-two and university graduate, became a football agent and later set up an agency with his two brothers who both played professional football for clubs including Manchester City, the court heard.
His barrister Genevieve Reed said Etuhu’s behaviour ‘could not be more out of character’, and said his role was limited to ‘administrative tasks’.
Rachel Shenton, for Bishop, said the defendant had made ‘fulsome admissions’ to the police, which were of ‘great assistance’ to the investigation.
She said Bishop, who previously worked in waste management, was ‘terrorised for months’ in prison, receiving threats and being assaulted after other inmates learned of the contents of his police interview.
Keith Harrison, for Ukaegbu, conceded his client played a ‘significant’ role but said he was not the ‘mastermind’ of the plot and was recruited by others.
Chudi Grant said Lowe became involved because he got into debt while working as a self-employed courier.
Barnes’ barrister Kyriakos Argyropoulos said the defendant played the role of ‘driver and a gofer’, and wasn’t involved in the planning or the abduction itself.
Detective Inspector Gareth Davies, of GMP’s Major Incident Team, said: “This was a terrifying attack on a man who was held against his will and senselessly tortured.
“This crime was carefully thought out and planned by this despicable group of offenders and their behaviour was ruthless and inhumane.
“The severity of these offences should not be underestimated and I would like to thank our GMP officers who have been working tirelessly as part of Operation Cervine to put these offenders behind bars where they can take the time they need to reflect on their actions.
“This sentence is very much deserved and I hope it will act as a warning that this type of criminal behaviour will absolutely not be tolerated on our streets.”