By Willie Johnston
The case lasted several weeks at the High Court in Edinburgh
The trial was unusual in many ways.
It is not often that the accused in a High Court criminal case include three solicitors.
Neither is it common for a witness list to read like a page from Who's Who.
On one memorable day the jury heard from Richard Walter John Montagu Douglas Scott, the 10th Duke of Buccleuch; Michael Clark, Director of the National Galleries of Scotland; Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor in the history of art at Oxford University and the world's foremost expert on Leonardo Da Vinci; and John Knight, director for Old Masters and British Paintings at Christie's auction house.
The purpose of the trial was not so much to establish what the five accused did, but rather why they did it. What happened between July and October 2007 was not really in dispute. It was all down to a question of intent.
The story starts with Robbie Graham and Jack Doyle, two friends from the Liverpool area. Graham had a small chain of pubs and, together with Doyle, ran two other businesses called Crown Private Investigations and Stolen Stuff Re-United.
Stolen Stuff Re-United had a dodgy-sounding name but was legitimate. It was internet-based: a kind of posting-board for information aimed at getting stolen goods back to their rightful owners in return for a reward or finder's fee.
The site dealt with small-stuff; "sentimental trinkets". By Graham's own admission, a multi-million pound Leonardo painting was "different league" but what fantastic kudos and publicity they would get if they could get it back for the duke.
Graham and Doyle had been approached in a pub by a man called "J" who knew a man called "Frank" who knew people with possible access to the painting.
The five men denied conspiring to extort £4.25m for the painting's return
J told them it had been given to someone as security on a £700,000 loan for a property deal which collapsed. The person stuck with it wanted his money back.
The Scouse pals did not know if it was something they could get involved with legally so they went to their solicitor Marshall Ronald, who practised in nearby Skelmersdale.
Ronald was excited by the prospect of what he dubbed the "art project" but realised that the crime involved a picture stolen in Scotland from a Scottish owner and was being investigated by a Scottish police force. He decided, therefore, to seek Scottish legal advice and phoned David Boyce, a solicitor he'd done business with before.
Ronald, Graham, Doyle, Boyce and a fifth man, Calum Jones, attended a meeting in Glasgow on 30 July 2007. Jones was a fellow partner of Boyce at Boyd's solicitors which, a few days later, was to merge with a much bigger law firm, HBJ Gateley Wareing.
His advice to Marshall Ronald was to make contact with Mark Dalrymple, the man known to be the loss adjuster acting for the painting's insurers. At the time of the theft Dalrymple had publicised a "substantial reward" for information leading to its return.
The first question Ronald needed Dalrymple to answer was: Would any reward be more than the £700,000 needed to acquire the painting? If not, it wasn't viable to become involved.
Police launched an undercover investigation to recover the painting
Ronald wrote to Dalrymple requesting a meeting but, instead of agreeing, Dalrymple went to the police who put in place a pre-arranged ruse.
Ronald was phoned by a man calling himself "John Craig" who said he had taken over the case from Mark Dalrymple and was acting as the direct representative of the Duke of Buccleuch. Craig was, in reality, an undercover policeman whose story was a complete fabrication.
By Ronald's own admission he fell for it "hook, line and sinker". In a series of taped phone calls he went on to negotiate a payment of £2m: £700,000 for the possessor of the painting and the rest to be split between himself, Graham, Doyle, J and Frank.
Later, Ronald negotiated a further £2.25m all for himself which no-one else was to know about. That cash was to be paid into a Swiss bank account.
Ronald was also to commit the solicitor's "cardinal sin". He raided his firm's client account for £350,000 required as an upfront payment to get possession of the painting.
He last saw it disappearing into the boot of Graham's Jaguar as he drove off to retrieve the picture from J in the car park of The Child of Hale pub on Merseyside.
Next day, 4 October 2007, Graham and Doyle delivered the painting to the boardroom of HBJ Gateley Wareing in West Regent Street. They were cock-a-hoop as they handed it over to John Craig, posing beside it for photographs.
They believed it was as good as presenting it to the duke himself and felt "very proud".
Minutes later, the room was raided by police who took possession of the painting and arrested those involved in its return.
Ultimately, the key to the whole case was the interpretation of John Craig's actions. The police said he was briefed to infiltrate and play along with an existing conspiracy. The defendants insisted that no conspiracy existed before Craig got involved and that he led five well-intentioned men, by the nose, into a trap.