Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 17:56 UK

Five cleared over Leonardo da Vinci plot

Clockwise from top left, Robert Graham, John Doyle, Marshall Ronald, David Boyce and Calum Jones
Clockwise from top left, Robert Graham, John Doyle, Marshall Ronald, David Boyce and Calum Jones all denied the charges

Five men accused of conspiring to extort £4.25m ($6.5m) for the safe return of a Leonardo da Vinci painting have been cleared.

The case was found not proven against Marshall Ronald, Robert Graham and John Doyle, all from Lancashire.

Glasgow solicitors Calum Jones and David Boyce were found not guilty.

The men were accused of seeking the funds for bringing back the Madonna of the Yarnwinder, which was stolen from a castle, near Dumfries, in 2003.

At the High Court in Edinburgh, all five men had denied the charges claiming they wanted to return the painting legally and were duped by undercover police.

Madonna with YarnWinder
The Leonardo painting was stolen from Drumlanrig Castle near Dumfries

The offences were alleged to have taken place between July and October 2007.

The men were charged with plotting to extort the money for the return of the artwork, which had been taken from the Duke of Buccleuch's Drumlanrig Estate, north of Dumfries, four years earlier.

They were not accused of carrying out that raid.

A jury took eight hours to deliver its verdict after a trial lasting more than seven weeks.

During the trial, the court heard details of an undercover police operation to recover the artwork.

It heard how that effort swung into action after Mr Ronald contacted a loss adjuster inquiring about a reward for returning the painting.

He had been approached by private investigators, Mr Graham and Mr Doyle, who said they could get their hands on the artwork.

Prosecutors praised the police efforts, claiming the officers involved had "turned the tables" on the accused.

They said a video the men had produced showing the valuable painting alongside a copy of a newspaper was a "hallmark of kidnapping and extortion".

Those claims were dismissed by lawyers representing the accused.

What we did was to bring back a culturally-significant masterpiece, which is something neither the police nor the insurers could do
John Doyle

They described the assertion that their clients were involved in a conspiracy as a "colourful tale" and a "mad idea" which was "wholly incredible".

They said one undercover officer had run the whole operation like a "circus ringmaster".

Speaking after the verdict, Mr Graham said the case should never have gone to court.

"I do believe we are entitled to a reward," added his business partner Mr Doyle.

"What we did was to bring back a culturally-significant masterpiece, which is something neither the police nor the insurers could do.

"We brought it back and we have been through two-and-a-half years of hell since."

'Sufficient evidence'

A short Crown Office statement said it noted and respected the jury's verdict.

"After consideration of all the facts and circumstances, Crown Counsel instructed that all five accused be indicted for a conspiracy to extort money from the Buccleuch family and others for the return of the Madonna of the Yarnwinder between July and October 2007," it said.

"In repelling the no case to answer submissions, the court held that there was sufficient evidence for the case to be put to the jury in respect of each of the accused."

Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary also said they accepted the decision of the court.

Det Supt Kate Thomson added that the theft of the painting remained a live investigation and appealed for anyone with information connected to the robbery to contact them.



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