Five men threatened to destroy the Madonna of the Yarnwinder, a world-famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, unless its aristocratic owners paid a ransom of £4.25million, a court heard yesterday.
By Auslan Cramb, Scottish Correspondent
Published: 4:53PM GMT 01 Mar 2010
The Madonna of the Yarnwinder painting, which is estimated to be worth more than £30m, was stolen by axe-wielding robbers from the Duke of Buccleuch’s home at Drumlanrig Castle in south west Scotland.
Alison Russell, 25, who was working as a tour guide, said two men appeared in the castle’s Staircase Gallery just after opening time on August 27, 2003, and told her she would be killed if she did not lie on the floor.
She told the High Court in Edinburgh: “One of them put his hand over my mouth and asked me to get down on the ground. He came from behind, put his hand over my mouth and told me I had to lie down on the ground or they would kill me.”
Sarah Skene, 73, a shop assistant at the castle who was also working as a tour guide that day, went to the gallery after hearing “a commotion.”
She said: “There was a male standing in front of the painting with an axe in his hand.”
The other man pulled the Da Vinci painting – one of the main attractions in the stately home – from the wall and as the alarm sounded the pair escaped through a window and down an outside staircase.
The jury saw CCTV photos showing one of the men in a white, wide-brimmed hat and fawn jacket, and the other in a dark jacket and baseball cap.
The five men on trial deny conspiring to extort £4.25m and an alternative charge of attempted extortion. They are not accused of the robbery.
The trial centres on a claim that they were holding the painting to ransom in a bid to get members of the family and their insurers to pay for its safe return.
The charges include allegations that they are guilty of receiving stolen goods and that cash used when the painting was recovered somewhere in England was embezzled from the client account of a solicitor’s firm linked to Marshall Ronald, one of the accused.
The three men from England and two from Scotland are alleged to have hatched a plan between July and October 2007 to get the money from the ninth Duke of Buccleuch – who died weeks before the painting was recovered – his son, the 10th Duke of Buccleuch, and their insurers.
The five are alleged to have menaced the dukes with threats that the painting would be damaged or destroyed if the money was not paid.
The indictment claims that they met in the offices of the legal firm Boyds in West Regent Street, Glasgow, to agree their plan.
Ronald, 53, of Upholland, Skelmersdale, Lancs, is alleged to have contacted a chartered loss adjuster acting for the insurers in a bid to set up a meeting and to have claimed that the painting could be returned in 72 hours.
The indictment states that he thought he was in contact with people acting for the duke when he sent e-mails and made telephone calls saying “volatile people” would “do something very silly” to the picture if police were brought in, and demanding that £2m should be deposited with a solicitors’ firm and another £2.25m should be put into a Swiss bank account.
Ronald was unaware that the people he was dealing with were undercover officers, according to the indictment.
He is alleged to have bought special acid-free paper and a folio case to transport the painting and to have passed £350,000 to Robert Graham, 57, of Ormskirk, Lancs, who along with John Doyle, 61, also of Ormskirk, is said to have collected the Da Vinci painting from somewhere in England and delivered it to the office in Glasgow.
The indictment claims that at a meeting there on October 4, 2007, Ronald, Graham, Doyle and Calum Jones, 45, of Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, met undercover officers with the intention of returning the painting if £4,250,000 was paid in two instalments.
A second charge alleges that the five accused – including David Boyce, 63, of Airdrie, Lanarkshire, attempted to defeat the ends of justice by getting one of the officers to sign an agreement that the police would not be told.
The trial continues