Page last updated at 15:36 GMT, Wednesday, 31 March 2010 16:36 UK

Heathrow armed raid gang jailed after no-jury trial

John Twomey (l) and Peter Blake

The leader of a gang of armed robbers has been jailed for 20 years and six months at the Old Bailey at the end of a historic trial without a jury.

John Twomey, 62, led a gang that raided a warehouse near Heathrow Airport in February 2004, making off with £1.75m.

Fellow robber Peter Blake was jailed for life with a minimum term of 10 years and nine months.

Glenn Cameron, 50, and Barry Hibberd, 43, were sentenced to 15 years and 17 years and six months respectively.

Weeping in the dock

All four men were found guilty of robbery and having a firearm with intent to commit robbery.

The case was the first crown court criminal trial to be held without a jury in England and Wales for more than 350 years.

Clive Coleman, BBC News legal analyst

The right to trial by jury was enshrined in Magna Carta in 1215. However it was only after the much feared Court of Star Chamber was abolished in 1641 that every person charged with a serious indictable offence in England and Wales was tried in front of a jury.

After more than 350 years, that right was limited by the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

It allows for a "judge only" trial if there is a "real and present danger" that jury tampering would take place, and any reasonable protective measures proposed by the police are insufficient to meet the threat.

The case of John Twomey and others is the first to be tried under this new law.

While the result sends a strong message to those contemplating jury tampering, lawyers and civil liberties groups fear it might mark the beginning of the erosion of a fundamental right.

Since 2005 three previous trials, lasting up to six months at a time, have collapsed.

The case became the first to be tried without jury, by Mr Justice Treacy, after the Court of Appeal ruled last June there was a serious danger that a jury could be influenced.

Twomey and Cameron, both of Hampshire, and Blake and Hibberd, of west London, targeted a Menzies World Cargo warehouse.

The judge said Twomey was "clearly the organiser, planner and recruiter" and "the principal offender".

Twomey, who the court heard has serious heart problems, was ordered to serve two-thirds of his sentence, minus 499 days in custody.

The father of five wiped away tears before being taken down from the dock.

His barrister, John Aspinall QC, said: "It is a distinct prospect that he will serve the rest of his days in prison."

Blake, who had led a "life of crime", was given a life term for robbery because of his previous armed robbery convictions.

The term was to run concurrently with two further life sentences for two firearms possession charges. He has already served 840 days.

Cameron was described by the judge as the "least intelligent" of the gang. He has already served 220 days in custody.

Top: Peter Blake and John Twomey (PA) bottom: Glen Cameron and Barry Hibberd (Central News)

Hibberd, he said, was a "trusted part of the team".

"His physical presence and self-confessed continued willingness to use it to enforce or advance his views rendered him an attractive recruit to a crime such as this," added the judge.

It is estimated that the cost to the taxpayer to bring the men to justice has exceeded £25m - more than 14 times the amount that was stolen in the raid.

Speaking after the trial, Portia Ragnauth, chief prosecutor for Surrey Crown Prosecution Service, described the case as a "benchmark prosecution"

"Our jury trial system should not be undermined by any suspected intimidation and jury tampering.

"And we will continue to apply for a trial without a jury when we have evidence that justice would not be served otherwise."


Police statement on Heathrow gang

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Wales Online Business News: Armed robbery gang boss now likely to die in jail - 5 hrs ago
Press and Journal Armed robber in trial without jury weeps at prison sentence - 7 hrs ago
Yorkshire Post Leader of armed robbery gang 'will die in jail' after historic trial without a jury - 10 hrs ago
Chelmsford Weekly News Robbers jailed after juryless trial - 12 hrs ago
LBC 97.3 Gang Guilty Of Airport Raid In Historic Trial - 18 hrs ago

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