Robber with taste for high life gets 24 years

Gang leader laughed as sentence was passed.
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The Independent Online
A ruthless gang leader with a taste for designer suits and pink champagne was led smiling from the Old Bailey dock yesterday after being jailed for 24 years for a string of armed robberies and an audacious escape.

Jimmy Doyle, 31, was convicted of a series of armed raids on banks and building societies in 1991 and 1992, mostly in north London. Judge Nina Lowry described him as a "very dangerous criminal". Raids had been meticulously planned and cashiers and customers terrorised.

"There are a number of features in this case which make it exceptionally grave," the judge said. "The robberies were ruthless and people were put into dreadful fear."

Police believe Doyle carried out 104 raids over a four-year period - the longest string of robberies on their records in Britain - netting hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Doyle, from Wembley, north-west London, liked the high-life. He loved to wear Armani, Hugo Boss and Gucci suits and jackets, and to snort cocaine at wine bars and nightclubs surrounded by women. Pink champagne and exotic holidays with his girlfriends and gang members were other favourites.

Doyle laughed as the jury found him guilty, waved to people in the public gallery, and was still grinning as he was led away to the cells by armed police.

Judge Lowry said the raids were "executed with something akin to military efficiency". His "tactics of surprise and speed were nearly always successful. It was very difficult for police to discover who was responsible".

The gang was finally caught red-handed in an armed police ambush in September 1992 as they tried to rob Lloyds Bank in Harrow, north-west London. It was the culmination of a costly Flying Squad operation involving up to 150 officers who studied Doyle's methods and targets. A hallmark was the choice of getaway car - nippy and unobtrusive Vauxhall Astras.

Doyle was keeping watch for the robbery team. In his pocket were travel details for another holiday, this time in Trinidad. Halfway through the string of robberies, in March 1992, he had recruited others to do the hold-ups.

But before Doyle could be brought to court, he escaped. Taken by prison officers to Moorfields Hospital in central London to see a consultant about a permanent eye problem, at the end of the appointment he asked to use the lavatory. Once inside a masked gunman burst in, forced the officers to the floor and ordered them to release Doyle from handcuffs. He fled to Ireland.

He was arrested there in August 1993 and extradited last October.

Tight security surrounded the eight-week robbery trial. The jury of five men and seven women had round-the-clock police protection and armed police patrolled outside the locked courtroom.

All of Doyle's men - totalling six or seven - were close friends living in the same north London area. They drew on an arsenal of weapons and 5,000 rounds of ammunition stored in safe deposit boxes.

Ironically their last job was also caught on film. A camera crew was shooting a documentary - Scotland Yard - for independent television at the scene of the ambush. It was used in court to help convict Doyle of conspiracy to rob, which he denied. The episode with his capture is due to be shown later this month.

Doyle was charged with 26 robberies over a 16-month period leading up to his first arrest. Police believe they represent a quarter of the catalogue of raids - mostly on north London targets dating back to 1988.