Former Gladiators star jailed for blackmail plot over drugs debt

A bodybuilder famous for his starring role in 1990s’ television programme Gladiators has been jailed for his part in a blackmail plot over a drugs debt.

Michael Jefferson King, known to millions as Shadow from the ITV game show, was one of four people who kept a man detained in a flat in Acton, west London, during a torturous attack lasting around eight hours.

King was described as a “lieutenant” to the plot, which ended in Aaron Ali being beaten and filmed for “highly distressing” videos sent to his family to elicit a payment of up to £1,000 to let him go.

At one stage, King was alleged to have ordered a co-defendant to “fetch a hammer to break his legs” after Mr Ali tried to flee.

King, 60, a long-time user of crack cocaine and heroin, was handed a sentence of six years and three months after admitting two counts of blackmail at Isleworth Crown Court.

Three other defendants, so-called ringleader Simon Batson, Donna Harman and Otis Noel, were also sentenced for their role in the plot.

Her Honour Judge Fiona Barrie said: “A plan was hatched by the four defendants to extort money from Mr Ali’s family.

Michael Jefferson King
Michael Jefferson King has been jailed (Metropolitan Police/PA)

“He was subjected to a sustained and brutal attack over several hours, and from lunchtime until 9pm he said he was tortured by the group.”

She added that Mr Ali said “he was treated as less than a human by people he knew, all for drugs and money”.

King showed no emotion as the sentence was passed.

The court heard Mr Ali originally turned up at Batson and Harman’s flat at about 9am on Sunday March 22 2020 for a drugs binge.

However, the atmosphere was said to have changed around lunchtime when the supplies ran out.

Prosecutor Keith Hadrill said: “Things turned to the worse for Mr Ali when Mr Noel and Mr King attended.

“There seemed to be some disagreement in regards to a debt reported to be owed. Threats were made and matters descended.

“Demands were made of him (Mr Ali) and threats that money should be paid for a drug debt to a third party.

“He was punched and threatened. It was decided, as he had no money to pay the required debt, demands would be made of his estranged wife.”

The court heard Batson phoned Mr Ali’s estranged wife, during which Mr Ali could be heard “whimpering in the background”.

During a later phone call, one of the defendants could be heard saying: “You know what, I’ll chop his fingers and ears off.”

It was never established who was responsible for the comment.

Mr Hadrill said Mr Ali later tried to leave but was prevented from doing so by the three men.

The prosecutor said King threatened to break Mr Ali’s knees, and asked Noel to fetch a metal bar. Noel refused.

Mr Ali was further kept captive before being taken to a nearby Sainsbury’s at 9pm, when the money – up to £1,000 – was handed over for his release by a family friend.

It is not known how much was paid, although the figure was said to be “significant” due to the Ali family’s limited means.

Mitigating, King’s defence counsel Stella Harris said her client had a promising career as an athlete but that time spent living in New York in the 1980s exposed him to class A drugs, which became an “entrenched” feature of his life.

She said: “He was a professional bodybuilder, all the while having these periods of abstinence and success, but there were relapses, he lost work, a relationship went wrong, and he turned to drugs.

“That’s been the pattern up to this point.”

King, of Birkbeck Grove in Acton, has 20 previous convictions for 39 offences, largely drug-related.

His co-defendant Batson, 39, of Burlington Gardens in Acton, west London, received a jail term of six years and nine months for two counts of blackmail.

He could be heard complaining about the length of his sentence as he was taken from the dock.

His sentence was later reduced by a month after the judge said she made an error calculating his discount for early guilty pleas.

Noel, 45, of Wendover Court in Ealing, west London, was jailed for seven-and-a-half years for two counts of blackmail and one count of false imprisonment.

Mother-of-two Harman, 41, who was said to be “controlled and abused” by Batson, was handed a jail term of four years for two counts of blackmail and one of false imprisonment on account of her “lesser role” in the crime.