AN underworld "Mr Big" is being linked to two unsolved gangland murders as he begins an eight-year jail term for extortion.

Jason Gillard (32) from Calder Crescent, Whitefield, was arrested during a major police operation in which officers used an expert involved in the infamous TV "Who wants to be a Millionaire" trial.

Detectives acted when a 47-year-old garage boss was blackmailed into handing over cash after Gilllard told him he would be shot and his home torched.

The victim -- known as Mr X -- was so frightened he initially handed over £1,000 but after further threats were made by Gillard to hand over a further £2,000 he contacted police.

Later the expert -- who had discovered where the coughs came from in the "Millionaire" trial -- was drafted in to analyse audio from taped telephone conversations between Gillard and Mr X.

On Friday, after Gillard was convicted of two counts of blackmail and branded "a dangerous and manipulative man" by a judge it emerged that he had strong links with the victims of two fatal shootings, both of which remain unsolved.

In November 1999, garage boss Alan Rosser, 34, was shot dead at his garage in Blackpool, eight months after being subjected to a brutal kidnap in which he was beaten with an iron bar and dumped at the side of the M55.

Gillard was charged with leading the ten-man kidnap gang but was acquitted of kidnap and robbery at Carlisle Crown Court.

After the murder, detectives investigated a theory that Rosser was involved in drug trafficking but no-one has been convicted of the killing.

Gillard was also a close friend of shady businessman Roger Ormsby, 35, who was shot dead at the wheel of his BMW in Moss Side in January 2000.

Ormsby ran several businesses including a garage and was known to police for drug offences. No one has been convicted of his killing.

The jury at Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester, was told that Ormsby was a business associate of blackmail victim Mr X who ran a car repair firm in Urmston.

Ormsby had bought the victim's £200,000 share of another garage firm in Manchester in 1996 at a knock down price of £80,000.

Mr X was said to have remembered Gillard as a "friend" of Ormsby during the bargain deal. In November last year Gillard began turning up at Mr X's Urmston premises demanding cash. Gillard took him to one side before telling him: "You owe me money." Mr X said he did not but Gillard then allegedly claimed he had been responsible for a fire at Mr X's home in Moston in August 1996 after which he subsequently received £8,000 from insurers.

The defendant said that if he was not paid he would "cap" him. He took that to mean he would be shot.

He was frightened because of his association with Ormsby."

Judge Peter Lakin told Gillard: "Blackmail is a sinister offence and one which causes deep revulsion in ordinary decent people. In my opinion you are a manipulative and dangerous man."