Published: 14:00, 11 August 2016
| Updated: 14:45, 11 August 2016
A businessman who caused fear, widespread disruption and financial loss when he placed a fake bomb at a bank has been convicted of blackmail.
Reginald Esqulant committed the bizarre crime - trying to extort money from Santander Bank - because he was heavily in debt, Maidstone Crown Court heard.
The bank and surrounding area in Sevenoaks was evacuated after he handed over a letter in which he threatened to explode the device if the cash was not paid.
After the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict following two-and-a-half hours of deliberation, Judge David Griffith-Jones QC said: “This behaviour was so extraordinary, and his approach to it so extraordinary, it seems to me a psychiatric report is likely to be of some assistance.”
Esqulant claimed he only wanted to speak to the manager about threatening letters and telephone calls he had been receiving about a missing mortgage payment of £2,196 for his family home in Harrietsham.
The 73-year-old father of three insisted he had no intention of getting money from the bank and just wanted to confront the manager and ask how he would like it if he received threatening letters.
But prosecutor Jennifer Oborne said Esqulant was desperate for money because he was in serious debt and faced a demand at the time from HM Revenue and Customs for over £106,162.
Esqulant, of Fawkham Road, West Kingsdown, admitted making the hoax but denied blackmail.
He also denied taking a car without authority and driving while disqualified, but was also convicted of those offences.
Wearing one latex glove, Esqulant went to the High Street bank on February 8 this year and passed the letter in an envelope to cashier Patricia Booth in the reception area.
He left the bank after he tried to light a cigarette and was told he could not smoke in the building.
Miss Oborne said Esqulant had written the letter in the bank. The money was to be left in an empty butchers shop in an alleyway called The Shambles.
Staff were initially not sure what to make of it but then saw that a brown box had been left in the reception area.
“They became extremely concerned as you imagine,” Miss Oborne told the jury of eight women and four men. “A threat like that cannot be ignored.
“The police were called and the bank and surrounding area were evacuated. A cordon was put around the area.
“The Army was brought in and the package was examined. It was found to be a hoax and destroyed.”
Esqulant, who was well known in the town through running pubs there, said in evidence: “I went into Sevenoaks and it turned into this crazy, silly affair.
“I had this silly notion. I just wanted to get the manager and say ‘How do you like getting threatening letters?’”
Asked by his lawyer if he handed over the letter to get money from the bank, he replied: “It never entered my head. Even at this minute I don’t think I did anything illegal.”
Adjourning sentence until after November 7 and remanding Esqulant in custody, the judge said the psychiatric report should consider his mental state - whether he suffered from any form of mental disorder.
The report would also consider the question of risk and whether he was a danger.
William Ryan, defending, said: “He wants to preserve his position for an appeal.”
Judge Griffith-Jones told jurors: “An unusual case - perhaps even an extraordinary case.”