MP: 'Police over-reacted to royal blackmail case'

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The Independent Online

An MP has criticised the involvement of anti-terrorist detectives in an investigation into a plot to blackmail a member of the Royal Family. Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker labelled a Scotland Yard investigation which culminated in the sentencing of Ian Strachan and Sean McGuigan to five years at the Old Bailey on Friday an "over-reaction".

"Members of the Royal Family, like everybody else, are entitled to the protection of the law – but also they are entitled to excesses not available to other people," he said. "It seems something of an overreaction to involve anti-terror officers in what is essentially a blackmail case."

The identity of the royal victim of the scam, where the two conmen tried to get £50,000 to keep a gay sex claim quiet, has not been revealed for legal reasons. More than 30 police officers were involved in an undercover operation to arrest the two men in London's Park Lane Hilton last September. They were arrested after trying to sell tapes containing allegations of sex acts to police officers posing as representatives of the victim. The conmen had already failed in their attempt to get newspapers to pay them for the story.

In a statement to police, the royal victim said the allegations were "spurious and without foundation", and added: "I wish to make it clear... that I am making a formal complaint with regards to this matter. I wish [it] to be fully investigated and undertake to support any prosecution arising."

Sentencing the two men, Mr Justice Cooke said, "This offence has been described as one of the ugliest and most vicious in the calendar of criminal offences."

Strachan, 31, described in court as a "Walter Mitty fantasist", and McGuigan, 41, a recovering alcoholic and occasional van driver, both of south London, pleaded not guilty during a three-week trial. It was the first public case of blackmail involving a member of the Royal Family since 1891, when Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, paid £200 to retrieve letters that he had written to prostitutes. Scotland Yard defended its actions, saying the seriousness of the allegations warranted the use of SO15 counter-terrorist officers.

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