“…do you feel a creeping, shrinking, sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the zoo, and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures, with their deadly eyes and wicked flattened faces?…He is the king of all blackmailers. Heaven help the man, and still more the woman, whose secret and reputation comes into the power of [Charles Augustus Milverton]…Milverton ”. ‘The adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton’, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
What Is blackmail?
Blackmail is a criminal offence contrary to Section 21 Theft Act 1968.
A person is guilty of blackmail if, with a view to gain for himself or another or with
intent to cause loss to another, he makes an unwarranted demand with menaces;
and for this purpose a demand with menaces is unwarranted unless the person
making it does so in the belief-
- That he has reasonable grounds for making the demand; and
- That the use of the menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand.
(2) The nature of the act or omission demanded is immaterial, and it is also immaterial whether the menaces related to action to be taken by the person making the demand.
(3) A person guilty of blackmail shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years’.
In the case of Hadjou  11 Cr. App R.(S.) 29, Lord Lane, CJ said that in the calendar of criminal offences blackmail was one of the ugliest and most vicious because it involved what one found so often, attempted murder of the soul.
It is a lifestyle offence within the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 Sch 2 and considered a serious offence within Schedule 1 to the Serious Crimes Act 2007.
There are four ingredients to the offence of blackmail namely:
‘Makes a demand’ It can be made in writing, or in speech, or by conduct. A demand need not be made directly to the person it is aimed at. A threatening demand in itself may not amount to blackmail. A demand is only within the remit of the offence of blackmail, if the other three ingredients are present.
‘Menaces’ It could be threatening words to cause physical harm. It could be threatening conduct to cause psychological and emotional damage.
‘Unwarranted’ This is where someone demands with menaces, a thing that he is not entitled to. A threat to do something entirely disproportionate to the legal remedy available is likely to be an unwarranted demand.
‘View to gain or intention to cause loss’ Is self-explanatory. It would usually refer to money, but it may also be some benefit derived, or else some loss to the victim, whether directly or indirectly. Sextortion is a form of blackmail where sexual benefit, rather than money, is the currency of the blackmail.
‘If you don’t pay me what you owe me, I will sue you; take you to court’:
“Is it blackmail?” “No, Sir”.
“A demand has been made, with menace, but was it unwarranted?” “No, Sir. Threatening to do what the law allows, is not blackmail”.
‘If you don’t pay me what you owe me, plus £20,000, I will make public that private video tape I made of us, in which we were frolicking in the daisies…’.
“Is it blackmail?” “Yes, Madam. A demand has been made with menace. The menacing demand is unwarranted because it compels you to pay far more than you owed, for no good reason, other than to prevent an embarrassing video from being released. It is a demand without reasonable or probable cause. Call the Police Madam, without further delay”.
‘If you don’t pay me money, or else with your body, I am going to release those nude and compromising images and videos of you’.
This would be an example of blackmail and extortion. An unwarranted demand is made with menace, with a view to gaining a benefit financially or sexually. Go to the Police and also seek the advice of a competent lawyer.
‘…in the calendar of criminal offences blackmail is one of the ugliest and most vicious because it involves what one finds so often to be a murder of the soul’. Lord Lane, CJ (as then he was)
Professor David Rosen is a solicitor-advocate and principal of David Rosen & Co. He is a Certified Fraud Examiner, a member of the ACFE, a member of RUSI, and a former strategic director and member of the Board of the ACFE UK Chapter. He regularly lectures on counter-fraud and counter-corruption as an honorary professor of Law at Brunel University.