Dad held hostage and tortured by Gladiator Shadow feared he was going to die


A dad held hostage and tortured by a former Gladiators star has told of how he feared he was going to die.

Aaron Ali was pictured lying bloodied and beaten in a terrifying ransom video sent to the mother of his children.

And he could be heard begging for mercy in the harrowing clip filmed by thugs including Michael Jefferson King – better known as Shadow from the hit 1990s show hosted by Ulrika Jonsson.

The former TV athlete, 60, hit Aaron with a wooden furniture leg and threatened to break his kneecaps when he tried to flee.

King was flanked by gang ringleader Simon Batson, who struck Aaron’s face with a 12in knife, and Otis Noel, who hit him with a metal pole.

The video is one of two that were sent via WhatsApp to the dad-of-five’s former partner Sophie, 37, in a bid to extort £1,000 for his release.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday People, Aaron, 41, said: “They told me if she can’t get the money we will send pieces of your body – fingers and stuff – to her. I was terrified.

“I thought I would be left to die or they would kill me.”

Last week King, Batson, Noel and Batson’s girlfriend Donna Harman were jailed at Isleworth Crown Court, West London, for the blackmail plot.

The videos were played in court along with footage of an online call they made to prove to Sophie that they had Aaron – by kicking him in the face as she listened in horror.

Sophie, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, told the Sunday People: “They kept calling, telling me they were going to kill him.

“I could hear him in the background, them hurting him and him screaming in agony, begging to get the money.

“It is such a horrible experience to see the father of your kids bleeding and crying for help.”

Former drug user Aaron said he took Class A substances with King before the March 2020 attack – and as a child had looked up to Shadow on the popular ITV sports game show.

Aaron said: “When we’d have a smoke I’d tell him that when I was a kid I thought he was all big and strong. He would laugh it off.”

Aaron met King and his associates after turning to crack cocaine and heroin around five years ago when his relationship with Sophie broke down. “I’d go to King’s place and buy and share drugs with him,” he said.

The gang took Aaron hostage at a flat in Acton, West London, to settle a drug debt. They wrongly believed that he and Sophie had access to big money.

The eight-hour ordeal began after Batson, 39, accused him of flirting with his girlfriend, then struck him with the blunt side of a 12-inch blade.

Aaron recalled: “He fractured my nose, it started bleeding. They all came around me – each person had a tool.

“King had a wooden stick, Noel had a metal pole. Batson had the knife and a flat-head screwdriver he threatened to stab me with. I tried explaining [Sophie] is a single mum on benefits and couldn’t give the money.”

At one point, the ­battered dad saw the door was unguarded and limped towards it, only to be ­wrestled back to the ground.

Aaron said: “King said, ‘Get a hammer and break his kneecaps with it.’

“He didn’t carry out the threat but did punch me a few times. Simon ­toe-punted me in the face.

“I gave up hope. I was thinking, ‘I’m not going to see my kids again’.”

Sophie was at home with four of their children when calls demanding cash started. She said: “I could hear them hurting him and him screaming in agony begging me to get the money.

“I was panicking. I didn’t know where he was, if they would take the money if I got it or if they would kill him. They told me not to call the police.”

But she dialled 999 after receiving the videos. Officers took her and the children to a safehouse.

Aaron was spared when the gang bundled him into a car and handed him over to a pal for £600. They were arrested that night.

Their victim was treated in hospital for bruising to the head, eyes and body, a fractured nose and cuts to the legs. Sophie, who saw him, said: “It was horrible. He looked at the children and I said ‘Turn around’ – I did not want them to have that image of him.”

The ordeal was a wake-up call for Aaron, who joined a detox programme and now works in hospitality. But the experience left him terrified of a revenge attack for reporting his attackers. “I’d wake up screaming, thinking I’m still living the torture,” he said.

Sophie still struggles to sleep and has received counselling.

Last week, King was jailed for six years and three months and Batson for six years and nine months.

Both men, from Acton, admitted blackmail. Mum-of-two Harman, 41, of Acton, and Noel, 45, of Ealing, West London, were convicted of blackmail and false imprisonment following a trial in May.

Harman was last week jailed for four years and Noel for seven-and-a-half. Michael and Shila Tyson, both 55, were cleared of aiding and abetting false imprisonment. Now, Aaron fears the gang will only serve half their terms.

“I will constantly have to look over my shoulder,” he said.

But he is grateful to have survived the ordeal, adding: “It could have been far worse, so I’m thankful.

“I now need to concentrate on continuing with the changes I’ve made.”