pounds 1m raids of underworld's `Ayatollah'

A FEARED underworld figure - dubbed "The Ayatollah" - was convicted at the Old Bailey yesterday of masterminding a string of armed raids on prestige jewellers and other targets.

James Phillips, 32, from Greenwich, south-east London, was remanded in custody for sentence later this month. He had denied robbery, attempted robbery and possession of firearms.

Phillips was leader of the gang and brains behind the robberies which spanned four years and netted more than pounds 1 million, the court was told.

He reconnoitred the robberies, selected targets, planned the escape route and provided the getaway cars, the court heard.

He did not take part in the actual raids, but "procured, aided and abetted others."

Among them was his long-term girlfriend, Christine Clapp-Smith, who is also awaiting sentence after being convicted last July of robbery and possessing firearms.

Clapp-Smith, 48, from Bermondsey, south London, helped him set up two of robberies.

"Her speciality was robbing jewellers," said Michael Worsley, QC, prosecuting.

"The pattern was similar in each case. Two men would do the job and then escape in a getaway vehicle."

In the first raid he and Phillips were seen together on a Bond Street jeweller's video "posing as customers and carrying out the reconnaissance.

"As soon as she was in the shop, he sidled in after her. They looked at the counters. She was plainly playing a leading part in sussing out the jewellery in the shop and the barriers they faced," said Mr Worlsey.

Everyone was terrified of Phillips, according to one of his former gang members, who gave evidence for the prosecution. He had "have a go eyes" and exercised a hold over gang members - putting pressure on them to carry out the raids.

Phillips was caught after a Flying Squad operation. One gang member had confessed to police and inadvertently involved another man, believing him to be dead. But he was found by detectives - drawing social security. Both men then gave statements of Phillips' involvement.

They are also awaiting sentence, after admitting various robberies.