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Dragons' Den star in Twitter threat

Duncan Bannatyne uses social networking site to issue extraordinary threat against Russian apparently trying to blackmail him

As Twitter spats go, they do not get more personal – or threatening – than this. The Dragons' Den star Duncan Bannatyne yesterday offered a £50,000 reward to break the arms of someone claiming to be a Russian who threatened his daughter on the social networking site.

The self-made millionaire responded angrily after the posting apparently emanating from a cyber café in Moscow by a person calling themselves Yuri Vasilyev. It said: "I'm looking for a GBP35,000 investments to stop us hurting your Hollie Bannatyne. We will bring hurt and pain into your life. We are watching her. She is very attractive. Want photos?"

It instructed the entrepreneur and father of six, who built his fortune through a chain of nursing homes: "Tweet using the hashtag #4money to confirm payment will be made."

Mr Bannatyne, 62, who has 372,000 followers on the site, used Twitter to offer a £25,000 reward "for the coward who calls himself @YuriVasilyev. Double if his arms are broken first". A few minutes later he added: "I am serious btw. I think he is in Moscow."

The post was later removed but in a statement Mr Bannatyne said: "My family is well protected but I take any threat to them very seriously and will do all I can to ensure the person or people involved are caught." It was unclear whether the initial offer for information leading to the arrest of the apparent extortionist still stood, although the Dragon insisted he was closing in. "@YuriVasilyev_ My people are getting closer to you every minute, run and hide you little coward in Moscow.... Go home to your mum and cry we are closing in on you little boy," he added.

Internet sleuths came to the Scottish tycoon's aid, offering clues and information on the identity of the person that made the threat.

However there was concern over his use of the site to offer money in return for violence. One user asked: "You are seriously trying to pay someone, to break someone's arms, on an incredibly public forum? Fair enough. Just to clarify, you 100% want everyone to know you are seriously doing this. Despite it being illegal?"

Others preferred to use the medium to poke fun at the star, who styles himself, author and philanthropist as well as entrepreneur on his Twitter feed. One suggested: "Perhaps Duncan Bannatyne should have just put up half the amount for 20 per cent of it and asked Theo to match it."

Mr Bannatyne, who has a fortune estimated at £430m, grew up in a council house in Clydebank earning his first money as a paper boy. He served as a stoker on the Ark Royal but was given a dishonourable discharge after threatening to throw his commanding officer overboard. He was court-martialled and sentenced to nine months in detention.

In June he startled his Twitter followers by posting a despairing message prompting concern over the state of his four-year marriage to wife Joanne. He wrote: "My day could not have been worse. Suicide is a considered option." Earlier he had posted: "Is death the end? Or is there more?"

The following week the problems appeared to have eased when he issued a more optimistic tweet.