Man says he is struggling after blackmail conviction quashed

Court House-07Ritchie Stuart Clutterbuck says he is struggling to find work and get his life back on track after serving a two-year jail sentence for a blackmail conviction that was quashed on appeal.

The 50-year-old says he has lost everything because of a conviction that no longer appears on his criminal record.

He says he is still fighting in the Family Court over matters that arose from the 2009 blackmail arrest.

The arrest led to a bizarre trial in the High Court in Christchurch, at which a farmer said he was threatened and had to agree to a $100,000 caveat over his farm because a pile of cash – said to be between $30,000 and $50,000 – went missing from where it was hidden on his farm.

The cash belonged to Nelson’s Red Devils motorcycle club, and Clutterbuck said he believed it was “debt for motorcycles”, but Justice Robert Dobson referred to at at the sentencing as “illegitimate money”.

The jury convicted Mr Clutterbuck of blackmail over a meeting he had with the farmer in a hamburger outlet carpark at Belfast, Christchurch, where it was alleged there were threats to the farmer and his family.

Mr Clutterbuck characterises the meeting as “mediation” rather than blackmail.

Mr Clutterbuck, who has about 350 previous convictions including manslaughter in 1986, was jailed for two years nine months. He had already served a large part of that sentence while being held in custody before the trial.

But the Court of Appeal overturned the conviction because Mr Clutterbuck had been denied the chance to give evidence at the trial. He had decided too late that he wanted to give evidence, and the trial judge was concerned that the evidence he would give would be inadmissible and would prejudice the co-accused’s rights to a fair trial.

The Court of Appeal ruled that he should still have been given the opportunity, and quashed the conviction. The Crown opted not to seek a retrial because Mr Clutterbuck had already served two years of the sentence.

Mr Clutterbuck said that when his appeal succeeded he was “thrown out of the prison with no support – nothing”. He had lost everything because of a criminal charge that had been overturned.

“If you are on parole you get all the support in the world,” he said. But he was not on parole because the conviction had been quashed, and the blackmail trial had received a lot of media coverage.

When he tried for jobs, prospective employers did Google searches and came up with reports of the trial and conviction, and there is even an out-of-date item about him being wanted by the police. He had been trying for jobs as a plasterer and gib-board fixer without success. “I have got a few talents. I am not a bad chippie.”

He says he is on a sickness benefit at present after a referral for a hip placement, and he has had no arrests since his release from prison.

He is also concerned that his friend who drove him to the meeting at Belfast remains on parole having served a shorter term for being a party to the blackmail, even though Mr Clutterbuck’s blackmail conviction was quashed.

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