A man has been cleared of blackmailing a family friend who killed himself after he was told he was going to be exposed as a paedophile.
Robert Barton, now 24, told a jury he was only trying to extract £500 from Peter Hallams to prove that he had molested him as a young teenager.
Mr Hallams, 62, gassed himself in his house boat in Leighton Buzzard after Mr Barton sent him a series of text messages. These included: “Look mate I want 500 cash off you or I am going to the police” and “You touched me up. I know you touched other people up as well.”
Prosecutor Neil King told Luton Crown Court that another text message sent on May 26 last year read: “When you have got money text me and I will give you an account to put it in. £500 or prison. Make your choice.”
A day later another text read: “I am coming to the Black Lion to tell everyone.” On that occasion he asked for £30.
On May 29, Mr Hallams complained to the police about Mr Barton. An officer visited him at his barge, which was moored near Jewson’s, on the Grand Union Canal. A report was logged but Mr Hallams said he did not want any action taken.
Then on June 3, Mr Hallams took his own life, gassing himself using the petrol generator on his barge.
He sent a friend Craig Wharton a message saying: “Thanks for everything mate. I don’t want to do this. I have had enough. Kill that f...... t... for me i.e. Robert.”
He sent Barton a message that read: “You have done it now mate. Hope you are happy now. This will haunt you.”
Mr Wharton discovered his body at 7.50am.
Opening the case, Mr King said Peter Hallams had known the Barton family for many years and when he was younger Robert Barton went to his boat a number of times.
Mr Barton, of Wyngates, Leighton Buzzard, denied blackmail and was cleared by a jury of nine women and three men after less than an hour of deliberations on Wednesday.
He told the jury he wanted to get money to prove to the police Mr Hallams was a paedophile.
Defence barrister Tim Clark told the jury that Barton “was not an angel”.
He said he had taken drugs, had dyslexia and autism and had criminal convictions. But he said Peter Hallams was a paedophile.
In a call to Barton’s brother he Mr Hallams came close to confessing that the abuse did occur.
When Mr Hallam’s phone was examined it showed he had an interest in young men having used search terms such as “Boy crush”, “Boy Feast” and “Only Dudes”.
Mr Clark went on: “This prosecution was brought to defend the rights of paedophiles against their victims. My client believed he was getting evidence. It was not about getting money.”
After the verdict, Judge Michael Kay QC told Barton he was free to go and granted him a costs order of £55 to cover his travel expenses to court.