STAFF at a hairdressing salon are living in fear of a suspected extortionist who has subjected them to a year-long terror campaign.
The most recent attack saw the front of the Heads ‘n’ Things salon in Howden Hall Road daubed in a red paint on Tuesday night.
The catalogue of destruction has included the doors of the premises being smashed three times and its windows twice since last Christmas.
The salon’s owner, Jayde O’Neill, believes the same man is responsible for each of the attacks, after she refused to hand over £5000 in protection money.
Ms O’Neill spent £4000 on CCTV for the salon and her home after the trouble began, but the cameras mounted on the front of the business were then stolen.
The 23-year-old has also dealt with direct threats and menacing phone calls.
She said: “We’re being driven to despair, but we won’t let this guy beat us.”
The suspect, who is in his early 50s and lives locally, is believed to have ties with two gangsters who tried to mount a protection racket in the Gilmerton area in 2010.
The Gardeners Arms pub in Drum Street was closed down by owner Scottish & Newcastle after its frightened staff refused to help the police investigation while other local businesses were also targeted. It later reopened under new management.
Ms O’Neill, who set up shop three years ago after receiving help from The Prince’s Trust, said she was threatened in the salon for the first time last November 8 by the man who demanded £5000 or her business would be hit. She revealed the man had been charged with the extortion attempt last year, but was not convicted in court due to a lack of evidence.
Her colleague, Michelle Moyes, 42, who is the beauty therapist at the salon, said: “These problems have been going on for a year. This man was asking for money or bad things would happen to the business, and when Jayde refused it all started.
“We’ve had windows smashed twice, the door smashed three times. Jayde got CCTV cameras for the salon after the first extortion attempt and those were smashed, too.
“We’ve had the sign stolen from the front of the shops a couple of times. One time the sign was found discarded in a garden in The Inch.
“The man was caught on CCTV vandalising the shop before the cameras were smashed, but the police said the images were not clear enough to arrest him.
“He’s used the name of the two gangsters who went after the Gardeners Arms, telling Jayde they would also cause her problems.
“Now all this red paint has been thrown at the shop. One of our clients saw the paint on the window at around 9pm on Tuesday night so it must have happened before then.
“The windows haven’t even been fixed since the last time they were smashed in the summer. It got to the point where it wasn’t worth repairing them.”
Ms Moyes said she and Ms O’Neill were refusing to be beaten by the terror campaign.
She added: “We are not afraid to work, but we are scared about what we will find when we come in each morning.
“We’re also worried that some clients might see the damage and stay away. The red paint has been running all over the pavement and the road and people may just avoid us.”
In another recent incident, the business received an anonymous phone call on Hallowe’en, warning the staff to stay away from the business as “something was going to happen”.
Ms Moyes said a police car was stationed outside the shop for the night and the warning proved to be an empty threat.
She added that the force had put the shop on a “high-priority alert” status, where responses to any incident are given urgent attention.
A police spokesman confirmed officers have been called to a number of incidents.
He said: “Lothian and Borders Police are investigating following a vandalism to a business premises in Howden Hall Road.
“The incident happened some time between 2.30pm on Tuesday and 6.30am on Wednesday.
“Anyone who remembers seeing anything suspicious in the area is asked to contact police immediately.
“Local officers are now conducting inquiries to establish whether this incident is linked to previous crimes reported at the address.”
The Gardeners Arms was shut down in October 2010 after being targeted by a protection racket.
Detectives quizzed its landlord, David Hay, and bar staff over the extortion campaign run by a member of a notorious local family and his associate.
The pair made threats against employees and demanded cash at the pub, forcing it to close for three days in September 2010 while police investigated.
The pub employees refused to assist officers amid fears for their personal safety.
WHILE extortion bids are not unknown in Edinburgh, organised racketeering has failed to reach the heights seen in cities such as Glasgow, according to one former senior officer with Lothian and Borders Police.
The ex-officer said extortion was a “classic example of an under-reported crime” due to the fear aroused from victims.
He said: “Extortion is rare in Edinburgh. It’s a crime mostly associated with gangsters, but that gang culture has never taken hold in the same way as it has in cities like Glasgow.
“Pubs are an example of businesses targeted by gangs offering ‘protection’. Landlords are told nothing bad will be allowed to happen in the establishment if they pay up. What it actually means is the gangs will not wreck the place if they get their money.
“Cash-heavy businesses like pubs, clubs, bookmakers and dance halls are obvious targets. If you smash up someone’s bar, that is going to scare away customers. They are businesses built on outward appearances which can be easily damaged.
“Although there have been cases of extortion in Edinburgh, they tend to be of a more personal nature, perhaps a business relationship which has gone sour. It’s more the blackmail-type of cases. Generating fear is the elemental part of extortion.”
‘Far more common than you would think’
ONE police informer from Sighthill said the war in Afghanistan and the economic downturn have both worked to fuel an underground interest in extortion racketeering.
The scar-faced insider said: “Many criminals have been hit hard by a lack of drugs coming into the country. Say what you will about the war in Afghanistan, it has definitely curtailed the amount of heroin on the streets.
“The jobs situation hasn’t helped, either. People don’t have that much spare cash. No spare cash, no fancy cars or other things to nick.
“Narrower opportunities in the criminal quarter mean some criminals have turned their hand to extortion and protection rackets to try and eke a living.
“By far the most common form of random terror that’s seen in areas like Sighthill involves people enforcing unpaid debts – often with interest.
“Loan sharks add fortunes on in interest and it’s this sort of debt that’s policed by people who use fear and the threat of violence to extort money from people.
“This particular form of extortion is far more common in Edinburgh than many people would ever care to think.”