THE man convicted of waging a million-pound blackmail and bomb hoax campaign against Tesco grew up in Accrington, it was revealed this week.
Philip McHugh, 52, was jailed for six years after his threats forced the closure of 14 supermarkets across the country, costing the company £1.4M in lost business.
McHugh, who attended Accring-ton Grammar School, appeared at St Albans Crown Court on Monday and pleaded guilty to three sample offences of blackmail and two of making bomb threats between May and July last year.
His younger brother Nigel, who now lives in London, later spoke exclusively to the Observer about their troubled childhood.
He said: "Our mother worked very hard for her three sons but we never had a father figure. There was a lot of mental torment. Our dad never kicked a football around in the park with us like other dads did.
"Phil was the eldest so he became like our father. At the time he probably felt like the big man but it can affect you when you get older. It’s too much responsibility for a child."
Former tax inspector McHugh, of Milton Avenue, Clitheroe, had threatened to contaminate Tesco yoghurt with caustic soda unless he was given £100,000, increasing to £200,000 if his demands were ignored.
He sent a total of 76 letters to store bosses and even planted a random single strand of hair under some stamps to throw detectives off the scent and provide false DNA evidence.
He attached dead spiders to some letters using sticky tape and used comedy stamps showing laughing policemen.
In one letter he warned of so-called Black Saturday and wrote: "I’m absolutely desperate and blood will flow if you do not co-operate."
The extortion bid was eventually brought to an end when he was captured on CCTV withdrawing some of the blackmail money from a cashpoint.
McHugh, along with his family, moved to Water Street, Accrington, when he was about 12 and after his days at grammar school he studied economics at Accrington and Rossendale College.
During the late 1990s he lived in Burnley Road, Accrington, before travelling to Russia to teach English, where he met and married his wife in 2003.
The court heard that by September 2006 he had lost his job with a Catholic care home and was suffering from depression and mounting debts.
He became addicted to online gambling, building up debts of £37,000. He had tried to take his own life and was suffering from clinical depression when he launched the bomb hoax campaign.
Nigel said: "I hadn’t spoken to Phil for years until I saw on the news that he had been arrested over the bomb hoax. I was in shock. It’s bizarre he has ended up like this when he had so much going for him.
"My brother hates it in prison and I think his sentence was too severe. He’s finding it difficult mixing with the kind of people you get in there. He’s sorry for what he did and I am certain he won’t do anything like that again."
Defence barrister Richard Simons said his client had an impeccable character, having worked for charities Shelter and Oxfam. He added: "He clearly felt a level of despair and hopelessness. He told a doctor that he knew what he did was wrong but it was his last gamble. He thought he could get his life straight."