Jail on the cards for ex tycoon

Dated: 20/09/11''PROPERTY tycoon Simon Morris arriving at Newcastle Crown Court today ,
Dated: 20/09/11''PROPERTY tycoon Simon Morris arriving at Newcastle Crown Court today ,

A DISGRACED Scarcroft property tycoon and former Leeds United director is facing jail after being found guilty of conspiring to blackmail a former business partner as he slid towards bankruptcy.

Simon Morris, whose fortune was once estimated at £69m, instructed his 21-and-a-half-stone bodyguard, Johnathon Ashworth, to intimidate fellow Leeds businessman Hedley Manton into repaying a disputed £100,000 loan.

Mr Manton was said to be left “shaking and pale” after Ashworth visited him three times in six days, only a month before Morris was served with a bankruptcy petition over creditors’ claims totalling £3.5m.

A jury at Newcastle Crown Court last Thursday took less than an hour to find Morris, 34, and Ashworth, 51, guilty of conspiring to blackmail Mr Manton between March 1 and April 1, 2009.

Morris, formerly of Ling Lane, Scarcroft, looked shocked as the unanimous verdicts were announced.

Ashworth, of Kestrel Close, Hydes, Cheshire, also faces sentence for two weapons possession charges to which he pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.

Judges Brian Forster QC granted the pair bail but warned them they would be going to jail.

He said: “I will only be able to impose a custodial sentence having regard to the authorities and the guidance given to judges in this type of case.”

The men are due to be sentenced on October 24.

The offence carries a maximum jail term of 14 years.

A six-day trial heard that Morris instructed Ashworth, a former doorman with “biceps that appeared to be the size of an average man’s thighs”, to secure the return of £100,000 he had lent Mr Manton to help buy a house.

Mr Manton had refused to repay the loan following the collapse of a Leeds-based student property firm he and Morris had owned.

The dispute was subject to county court proceedings but Morris asked Ashworth to do “whatever you can to help” to get the money back, the jury was told.

By the time Morris was aged 30 he was one of the county’s weathiest men.

But three years later he was declared bankrupt.

Details of the collapse were heard in court where Morris blamed his predicament on the credit crunch and downturn in the house market.