Gift shop owner 'blackmailed Muslim woman for £8,000 with threat to expose her to police as a terrorist sympathiser'
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 3:03 PM on 19th May 2009
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A shopkeeper extorted £8,000 from a young British Muslim after threatening to expose her to police as a terrorist sympathiser.
Gift shop owner Mary Sturges claimed to have taped evidence of 21-year-old student Nabilah Hussain discussing terrorism and saying 'the British deserve what they get'.
She pretended that a friend was going to take the tape to the police unless he was paid off and forced her to borrow money from her family to pay him off, a court heard yesterday.
Mary Sturges is alleged to have conned £8,000 from Nabilah Hussain by claiming she had a recording of her discussing terrorism in Britain
Sturges even conducted fictitious phone conversations in which she claimed to be in touch with an organisation called the Racial Equality Police.
Sturges, aged 53, told the terrified art student she used to be a solicitor and advised her she was in such serious trouble she could be taken to court.
Nabilah was so frightened she lied to her family to get more money by telling them she had crashed into and killed a sheep on Dartmoor and needed cash to pay off the farmer.
The scam lasted for six weeks with the demands getting larger and larger until Nabilah's family realised something was wrong and travelled from their home in Surrey to Devon to take her home.
Muslim convert Sturges, of Tuckenhay, South Devon, denies six counts of blackmail and three of deception.
Her son Mark Blondiaux, aged 19, denies one count of blackmail at Plymouth Crown Court.
Mr Llewellyn Sellick, prosecuting, said Nabilah became friends with Sturges and her husband James when she was a student at Dartington College, near Totnes, and worked in a bistro next to the couple's Bear Shop in Totnes.
He said the blackmail started after they had a row about race, religion and terrorism while visiting a hairdresser and Sturges claimed the hairdresser's husband had taped her remark that 'the British deserve what they are getting in terms of terrorist attacks'.
She then told Nabilah he was going to take the tape to the police unless she paid him off and an initial payment of £200 was followed by ever increasing demands which totalled £8,000 over six weeks.
Mr Sellick said Sturges and her son both denied demanding or receiving any money.
Sturges said she was a Muslim convert and had befriended Nabilah at a time when there was tension between her and her family because she had a Buddhist boyfriend.
She told police she was wealthy and did not need the money because her shop was successful but later accepted it had an overdraft of £50,000.
Nabilah told the jury she had no memory of saying anything which supported terrorism or attacked Britain but panicked after Sturges told her there was a tape of her making the remarks.
She said she and Sturges argued about race, refugees, Islam and terror during a trip to a hairdresser in Plymouth a few months after the July 7 London bombings.
She added: 'Sturges started to talk about refugees and immigrants and racial stuff and she had quite strong views.
'I got upset because I have worked with asylum seekers and said their life is quite tough and Sturges got really angry and she said something about all Muslims being terrorist which made me really upset.
'I said Muslims do not believe in trying to hurt people. I said we believe in peace but she didn't try to understand my point of view.
'I got really vulnerable and really emotional and quite stressed and started to cry Sturges was constantly making me say things I should not say.
'I do not remember saying it but she kept telling me I had said that the British deserve what they are getting.
'I was on medication for a skin problem and its side effects can make you emotional.
'On the way back she told me people had heard what she claimed I had said and I was panicked and had an anxiety attack.
'I could not understand what I was supposed to have said. They took it wrong and misinterpreted it completely.'
She said Sturges later told her there was a tape and that someone else planned to take it to the police unless she paid them off and she started making the payments.