Bodyguard threat to businessman

By Zoe Beaty, September 22, 2011
Simon Morris

Simon Morris

A property mogul sent his 21-stone bodyguard to force a former business partner and fellow member of the Leeds Jewish community into repaying a loan, a court has heard.

Former Leeds United boss Simon Morris, 34, who was heavily in debt after several failed dealings, asked Johnathan Ashworth, 51, to visit Hedley Manton at his office to collect £100,000 he had lent him to buy a house.

Ashworth, described by 5ft 5in Mr Manton as "the biggest man I'd ever seen" arrived at Mr Manton's new business in Leeds in March 2009. "He said, in a very low, growling, dominating tone, 'I need to talk to you'," Mr Manton told Newcastle Crown Court.

He said heavily scarred Ashworth told him he was "stalling for time" when he tried to explain that the matter was being dealt with in court. "He said the money was owed and that, if it was not paid, he would jump over this table and stab me."

Mr Morris and Mr Ashworth both deny charges of conspiracy to blackmail Mr Manton.

Prosecuting, Simon Batiste said: "Simon Morris was a highly successful businessman. However, by the first half of 2009 his business empire was imploding. In April 2009, he was desperately trying to avoid being made bankrupt."

The allegations arose after a conflict over an £800,000 house in Leeds that Mr Morris was set to sell to Mr Manton. As part of the sale, Mr Morris was to loan Mr Manton £100,000, to be repaid using profits following the liquidation of the pair's student property business, of which Mr Manton owned 35 per cent. However, the money was never repaid, as administrators were called in.

Mr Manton said he had understood the arrangement to be a "contingency repayment", repayable only if there were profits. In December 2008, Mr Morris obtained a court order for the payment, but Mr Manton had it overturned and Mr Morris was ordered to pay the costs."

Mr Manton alleges that, when Mr Ashworth visited him, he told him: "If you want to beat me up then go ahead… but I'm not paying you any money."

Mr Batiste said: "The following day Ashworth again phoned Mr Manton saying that 'Simon (Morris) wants me to see you, I will be there at 2pm'."

Instead, Mr Manton called the police, who arrested Ashworth. Simon Morris was subsequently arrested. The trial continues.

Last updated: 2:06pm, September 22 2011