The first major criminal trial to be held without a jury in Britain for more than 400 years ended yesterday with the conviction of four armed robbers who took part in a £1.75m heist at Heathrow Airport.
John Twomey, 62, Peter Blake, 57, Barry Hibberd, 43, and Glenn Cameron, 50, were found guilty of robbery and firearms offences after an 11-week trial which was heard by a judge sitting alone. They were each sentenced to upwards of 10 years in prison.
Twomey, who was considered the gang’s ringleader, wept as he was sentenced to 20 years and six months. His barrister told the court that, due to his age and ill-health, it was likely that Twomey would die in prison.
It was the fourth time the case had come before the court. Twomey took ill during the first and his co-accused were acquitted. One man, Darren Brockwell, pleaded guilty and then decided to turn supergrass.
He named Blake, Hibberd and Cameron as being involved in the scheme. At their first trial – Twomey’s second – the jury was unable to reach a verdict. The third trial collapsed amid allegations of jury tampering. A legal injunction means that what evidence the police had to suggest jury tampering had taken place will never be known.
But based on that evidence, which was given to the court in secret, the third trial was halted and the Court of Appeal had to decide whether the fourth trial should be heard without a jury.
It was estimated that the cost of protecting the jury members from nobbling would cost £6m but a trial by a judge alone would cost just £1.6m. And so Britain’s first juryless major trial in four centuries was given the go-ahead.
The judge was told that the four men had been involved in a “professionally planned and professionally executed” armed robbery at Menzies World Cargo at Heathrow in February 2004.
The men had thought their haul would be £10m but because one of the gang had misunderstood a document showing the number of bags of money that were to be delivered to the warehouse that evening, they instead made off with £1.75m.
During the raid 16 employees at Menzies were rounded up at gunpoint and tied up. One man, who tried to escape, was shot at twice by Blake but was not injured.
The trial was initially held at the High Court, but was moved the the Old Bailey after Blake went on the run after finding out that a relative wanted to withdraw part of his £260,000 surety. He had feared that his bail would be withdrawn and he would be remanded in custody if this happened. He handed himself in to police five days later.
During the trial, witnesses and barristers were encouraged at times to speed through evidence, skipping over areas that the judge did not feel were relevant. Other differences included that that judge was asked to rule on legal submissions which would normally be kept from the jury.
But, just like a jury, the judge Mr Justice Treacy chose to retire to consider his verdict at the end of the evidence. He was out for 12 days before delivering his verdict yesterday.
Outside court Detective Superintendent Stuart Cundy, head of the Flying Squad, said: “These are dangerous individuals who organised a complex armed robbery, to steal a substantial amount of money and expected to get away with it. They were prepared to not only carry guns, but to use them to ensure their plan succeeded. The evidence against these men was thoroughly tested in court and speaks for itself.”
Blake, of Notting Hill, west London, was jailed for 10 years. Hibberd, of Shepherds Bush, west London, got 17 years. And Cameron, of New Milton was sentenced to 15.