Images of a squalid shipping container where a kidnapped cattle dealer was held hostage as a criminal gang from Tyrone demanded a €400,000 ransom have been revealed by police.
Detectives lifted the lid on the investigation that brought five men to justice for their role in the capture of Paul Gogan from Essex as prosecutors confirmed they were considering an appeal against the sentences handed down.
Mr Gogan, 42, who is originally from Co Meath in the Irish Republic, was allegedly threatened with a shotgun and told he would be killed or have his fingers cut off during his five-day ordeal inside a disused refrigerator container in a remote field in Northern Ireland.
Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray said the victim, who was held over a disputed debt, endured a “terrifying ordeal”.
“He didn’t know whether he was going to live, he didn’t know whether he was going to die – he didn’t know if he did live, was he going to come out hurt, permanently injured, with fingers cut off,” said the PSNI officer.
Mr Gogan was finally released across the Irish border after a reduced ransom of €100,000 was paid by his family – money that has never been recovered.
Images released to the Press Association show the horrendous conditions inside his make-shift cell.
Bound by cable ties, Mr Gogan was held in pitch dark, with no sanitation, surrounded by horse faeces and only dirty mattresses to lie on. He was given only limited food and water.
“Kidnapping is a very, very traumatic crime,” said Mr Murray.
“Thankfully, it is reasonably infrequent in Northern Ireland and that’s the way we want to keep it and that’s why this case is a success story for us – we overcame a number of criminal justice hurdles to convict five individuals in relation to a very, very serious crime.”
Scottish businessman Robert James Vevers and four men from Co Tyrone all escaped immediate custodial sentences last month after pleading guilty to various offences linked to the October 2012 kidnap.
Vevers, 60, from Crawick, Dumfries pleaded guilty to conspiracy to blackmail, conspiracy for false imprisonment and kidnap. He was handed a term of two and half years, suspended for three years.
Omagh men Patrick Noel McCaul, 45, from Slieveard Rise, and Matthew McClean, 28, of Glenpark Road, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to blackmail. They were sentenced to two years suspended for three years.
Robert McClean, 23, from Deverney Park, also in Omagh, and Martin Arkinson, 22, from Ballycolman Estate in Strabane, pleaded guilty to assisting offenders.
They were handed 18-month and 12-month sentences respectively, both suspended for three years.
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said it was considering referring the sentences to the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal on the grounds of being unduly lenient.
The maximum jail term for kidnap is life, while that for blackmail is 14 years.
Mr Murray, who declined to comment on the sentences, hailed the “tenacity and commitment” of his officers. He said their task was made more difficult when Mr Gogan withdrew his complaint two years into the investigation.
Despite no victim testimony, CCTV, DNA and phone evidence helped build the case.
“Dedicated detectives working for four years with a reluctant witness and one telephone number built a case that was capable of bring five individuals before the court for very, very serious crimes,” said Mr Murray.
The plot unfolded when Vevers asked Mr Gogan to accompany him to Northern Ireland to have a look at a meat factory similar, he claimed, to one he wanted to set up in England.
It was a fabrication and when the pair arrived by ferry Mr Gogan was instead driven to a farmyard near Omagh where he was confronted by a gang of masked men.
He was bundled into a van and driven 25 miles to the field where the container sat.
A call made by the kidnappers to Mr Gogan’s father demanding €400,000 and threatening to cut off his fingers proved their undoing. Detectives ultimately were able to trace the call back to the gang members.
Mr Murray said DNA on balaclavas found near the container and on cable ties used to bind Mr Gogan were also key to building the case, as was extensive examination of CCTV at the port and in Co Tyrone.
A PPS spokesman said: “The Public Prosecution Service is currently considering if there is a basis to refer the sentence in this case to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that it may be unduly lenient.
“An unduly lenient sentence is one that falls outside the range of sentence that a judge, taking into consideration all relevant factors and having regard to sentencing guidance, could reasonably consider appropriate.”