Specialist police from across Lancashire were drafted in to deal with a blackmail threat made by a retired soldier, who said a bomb would go off in “a very busy place in Lancashire” if bank staff did not hand over £150,000 cash.
Detectives, counter-terrorism officers and intelligence officers scrambled to the incident after bank staff reported Clifford Fleming’s threats.
Former soldier Fleming, 65, has now been jailed for three years at Preston Crown Court for his terror plot. He told staff from Barclays Bank to deposit used notes in a carrier bag in an alleyway in the Ribble Valley.
The lifelong gambling addict was snared when officers from Lancashire Constabulary followed him to his Clitheroe home and spotted that the handwriting on a newspaper crossword, left open on a coffee table, matched that on a note deposited in the bank’s letter box overnight.
In a chilling letter, opened by a female member of staff, Fleming wrote: “This is a coded message. A bomb has been timed to explode at 1.30pm in a very busy place in Lancashire unless you follow this request to the letter.
“Multiple deaths and injuries will occur unless you follow these demands.”
The letter, which had been deposited in the bank’s mailbox overnight, went on to order bank staff to deposit the cash in a bag placed at the side of Billington Village Store at 12.15pm.
It went on: “Our people will be listening to the police and watching you. Don’t try to be a hero or carnage will ensue.”
The horrified bank worker thought the letter was a prank but as she read on she became fearful the threats were real.
The court heard she contacted her manager at the head office in Clitheroe who told her to inform the police.
At 12.15pm officers from Lancashire Police went to the drop-off. One minute before the deadline, Fleming was seen walking towards the alleyway.
Five minutes later he picked up a carrier bag and walked away.
Officers watched CCTV taken from the bank which appeared to show the same man posting a letter to the branch.
When officers went to Fleming’s home in Billington Gardens, Clitheroe, the pensioner denied any involvement but when one of the officers spotted the similarity between the writing on the crossword and on the blackmail letter, Fleming admitted he was behind the threat.
During a police interview, Fleming, a father-of-four, said he had a gambling addiction and had run up huge debts.
He had lost the equity in the family home, an inheritance from a family member and had a £13,000 credit card debt.
He now feared he would not be able to afford healthcare or funeral costs for himself or his ailing wife.
Judge Heather Lloyd, sentencing, said: “It may be that this is seen to be a hopeless attempt at blackmail by a 65-year-old man under stress and in debt.
“It is undoubtedly the case that you were under stress and in debt. You do suffer ill health, both physically and mentally, but how did you think the bank emplyees were going to react? You wanted them to believe the threat.
“You made it appear that this wasn’t a plain prank and that there was some sort of organisation behind it.
“You must know, particularly bearing in mind your army background, that in this day and age the authorities have to be particularly wary of threats of bombs and terrorism.
“We have heard evidence from the Chief Inspector of Lancashire Police about the significant resources that were deployed as a result of your stupidity.
“The amount of money said to have been spent is significant. Forty staff and officers were deployed, the duration of the operation was seven hours. During this incident resources in Lancashire were redeployed to the area.”
Fleming pleaded guilty to blackmail and was jailed for three years.