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Last Updated: Monday, 28 January 2008, 17:50 GMT
Tricked by the Securitas gang
By Chris Summers
BBC News

Five men have been convicted in connection with Britain's biggest robbery. John Fowler was acquitted of all charges in connection with the 53m Securitas depot robbery in Tonbridge, Kent, in February 2006. So why was he in the dock?

See an aerial shot of Fowler's home, Elderden Farm

When police swooped on his farm a few days after the Securitas robbery, some newspapers gave the impression John Fowler was the mastermind behind the raid.

He was described as a "millionaire businessman" who threw "lavish parties" at the "sprawling Tudor country pile".

But a very different picture emerged during the Old Bailey trial.

Mr Fowler, 59, was no Mr Big and nor was he fabulously wealthy.

He was comfortably off, had virtually paid off his mortgage and had little motive for joining the robbers.

The robbers' lorry
Mr Fowler hired this lorry with his own credit card

The prosecution said Mr Fowler had agreed to let the gang use his farm as a base in return for a cut of the proceeds.

But Mr Fowler said he had been duped by his old friend, Stuart Royle, who bought and sold cars from him and often borrowed his yard at Elderden Farm, near Staplehurst, to store vehicles.

When confronted with the presence at Elderden Farm of a green Peugeot containing 30,000 from the Securitas robbery, Mr Fowler blamed Royle and said he knew nothing about it.

The prosecution claimed Mr Fowler had played a "cat-and-mouse game" with police, constantly changing his position when confronted with new pieces of evidence.

'Set up'

He initially said he "knew nothing" and would not have had "the balls" to be involved in the raid.

But later said he had been "set up" by Royle but knew nothing of the whereabouts of any of the stolen money.

The defendants
John Fowler (far right) blamed Stuart Royle (second left)

He repeatedly said he had simply been doing favours for Royle, by letting him use the farm to park vehicles, and told police: "It has caused me no end of grief."

Mr Fowler said he was asked by Royle to hire the lorry used in the robbery.

His barrister, Alex Cameron QC - brother of the Conservative Party leader - pointed out his client had rented the lorry with his own credit card, which was hardly the act of a criminal planning a robbery.

Mr Fowler, who was born in Maidstone shortly after the end of World War II, had been a car dealer most of his life. His father, a former lorry driver, had been a car dealer and Mr Fowler took over the business when he retired.

In the 1980s he was highly successful and ran a car dealership selling Saabs and Suzukis, but the recession hit him hard and his business collapsed.

In 1992 Mr Fowler was convicted of credit-card fraud and jailed. He came close to having Elderden Farm repossessed, but he held on to it and eventually rebuilt his business, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Link to lorry

Mr Fowler, whose wife Linda was not called to give evidence on his behalf, is the father of three children, aged between 16 and 23.

He had known Royle for several years and they were business partners at the time of the robbery.

Mr Cameron said his client had been manipulated by Royle and knew nothing of the robbery plot.

The day after the robbery Mr Fowler visited a car showroom in Maidstone to complete a deal for a vehicle.

When salesman John Davis saw him watching a TV newsflash about the robbery he joked: "That wasn't you was it?"

Mr Fowler laughed and said: "No, I was just watching it because it's local news."

He said later he was horrified when he learnt that his farm had been used by the robbers and he later pointed the finger very definitely at Royle, who was later convicted.


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