Bugs Bunny in blackmail plot

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BUGS BUNNY and Sinbad the Sailor videos were used in an attempt to blackmail the owner of Harrods, Mohamed al-Fayed, an Old Bailey court heard yesterday.

The would-be extortionists claimed the innocent videos - bought at a motorway service station - contained material that would cause huge embarrassment to Mr Fayed.

But the threat was "completely untrue" and was simply a confidence trick, said Nicholas Coleman, for the prosecution. Geoffrey Crossley, 50, a self- employed builder from Lancaster, was given a two-year suspended sentence after admitting the blackmail attempt in March last year.

His friend, Simon Peach, 33, unemployed and also from Lancaster, was ordered to do 160 hours' community service after admitting attempting to obtain money by deception.

Crossley, now blind from a road accident, had masterminded the scheme to try to extract pounds 75,000. He recruited Peach only on the day he was to meet Harrods' head of security, John McNamara - who had already alerted police.

Recorder Brian Barker described the plan as "opportunist". He added: "It was bizarre and bumbling to the extreme. Any large organisation - well known organisation - is vulnerable. People in public life are also vulnerable. They are entitled to expect protection from the courts."

The identity of blackmail victims is usually not revealed, but Mr Coleman said that there was no truth in the claims.

Mr Fayed had featured prominently in the media for a variety of reasons and was known as a wealthy man, said prosecution.

Crossley, an undischarged bankrupt, had previous convictions for deception.