Stephen Farley, 35, a former Royal Marine, was driven to crime by his financial straits, James Curtis, for the prosecution, told the Old Bailey. His African safari business and driving school and lorry company were in trouble and he had been served a High Court writ for pounds 250,000.
Farley had watched a true crime programme directed by Michael Winner in which a former police officer threatened to contaminate food products in supermarkets. 'That sowed the seeds of blackmail in his mind,' Mr Curtis said.
Farley, of Camesdale, Haslemere, Surrey, admitted blackmailing Conoco and Elf Oil, demanding a total of pounds 440,000 in cash, and asked for a pounds 240,000 demand against the food company Walls to be considered.