Cage fighter jailed over £53m cash robbery

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A cage fighter who helped plan Britain's largest ever cash robbery was jailed for 18 years today after admitting his role in the plot.

Paul Allen was the trusted lieutenant of Lee "Lightning" Murray, who masterminded the £53m robbery at the Securitas depot in Tonbridge, Kent.

After the hold-up in February 2006, Allen fled to Morocco with Murray, a fellow cage fighter.

The pair began enjoying a cocaine-fuelled party lifestyle in the sun, buying sumptuously-furnished villas and expensive cars.

Thousands of pounds were also spent on breast enhancement operations in England for wives and girlfriends of the men, according to court documents.

They thought they were living out their dreams, but after four months they were seized by Moroccan authorities and locked up in the rat-infested "hell hole" of Rabat prison.

Allen, an aggressive and powerfully-built, steroid-pumping fitness fanatic, spent 20 months in the jail before he was brought back to Britain to face trial.

The father-of-three claimed he knew nothing about the robbery and jurors were unable to reach a verdict after a first trial at the Old Bailey.

But Allen, 31, of Chatham, Kent, admitted charges of conspiracy to rob, kidnap and possess firearms as a re-trial was due to begin at Woolwich Crown Court.

He pleaded guilty on the basis that he was not one of the robbers who entered the depot, or one of the kidnappers, and that he did not handle any firearms.

The basis of plea also maintained that he was doing the bidding of Murray and his only benefit was the property in Morocco.

Murray, said to have been the mastermind behind the robbery, will not face British justice.

The 30-year-old, from Sidcup, south east London, claimed nationality in Morocco because his father was born there and authorities in the north African country turned down an extradition request, although he remains behind bars.

Murray, a Ferrari-driving martial arts star, masterminded the Securitas heist just five months after he was nearly killed in a knife attack outside a star-studded West End party.

Police have recovered £21m of the cash haul and are still hunting for the rest, with recent inquiries focusing on a country in the Middle East.

The robbery was planned and executed with military precision. Depot manager Colin Dixon, his wife and young child were kidnapped to allow the gang to gain entry, and 14 staff members were terrorised and tied up at gunpoint as the robbers stuffed cash into a 7.5-ton lorry in the 66-minute raid.

Plans are under way to make a Hollywood film about the robbery.

Kick boxer Lea Rusha, car salesman Stuart Royle, unemployed Albanian Jetmir Bucpapa and garage owner Roger Coutts were all jailed indefinitely last year with minimum terms of 15 years after being convicted of taking part.

Inside man Emir Hysenaj, an Albanian, who filmed inside the depot using a miniature camera, was given 20 years.

Passing sentence, Judge David Penry-Davey said the robbery was "meticulously prepared and ruthlessly executed".

He said: "The plot included from an early stage the kidnapping and holding hostage of Colin Dixon, his wife and young child, who, under threat of lethal violence, gave access to the depot and unimaginable amounts of cash."

The judge said the staff caught up in the daring robbery suffered long-term effects and the gang was limited to stealing £53 million only because of the size of the vehicle that could be taken into the depot.

He said: "This was, as I said previously, organised banditry for uniquely high stakes."

Addressing Allen's role in the conspiracy, Mr Justice Penry-Davey said: "It is clear that as a long-term friend and associate of Murray and with knowledge of what was being planned, you played an active part in various aspects of the preparations for the raid."

Amid tight security, Allen's friends and family watched from the public gallery as he was jailed.

Earlier, the court heard that the group stole "substantial sums" to live in comfortable wealth for the rest of their lives.

Prosecutor Mark Dennis QC said: "Murray was a somewhat flamboyant figure in contrast to the defendant. In many ways he was a quiet and perhaps supporting character for Murray, who worked with and for him over the years, helping him with his training and doing his bidding."

Mr Dennis went on: "This was an audacious robbery in which those involved in carrying out and planning and supporting roles were clearly playing for high stakes."

Allen's defence team maintained that he was a "corner man" for Murray and played only a minor role in the conspirarcy.

Defending, Ian Glen QC said: "For several months this defendant enjoyed the high life in Morocco but it was still very much a question of the boss and the corner man."

Allen's wife was now forced to live on benefits, the court heard.

Mr Glen added: "Nothing that he did was vital to the conspiracy. It was the sort of errands you would expect for somebody who was still working as the driver and corner man for Lee Murray."

Speaking outside Woolwich Crown Court, Kent Police chief constable Michael Fuller said: "I am pleased Paul Allen has acknowledged his guilt and involvement in this crime. We were always confident he played a key and pivotal role in carrying out this crime and he's been rightly convicted.

"I am pleased with the outcome and sentence. What he has avoided is the witnesses and victims in this case going through another harrowing ordeal.

"They have already had to recount their horrific experiences twice and had this trial gone ahead, they would have had to recount their experiences a third time."

He added: "This has been a fantastic investigation. We arrested some 54 people, charged 13 and convicted six. We've recovered £21 million now and that amount has increased since the frenetic two weeks of activity when we were able to recover £20 million in 13 separate recoveries.

"I just think the result and conviction is testament to the hard work of the investigation team, who have been highly professional."

He said: "This was a violent crime carried out by violent people. The criminals involved should not be glamorised.

"They are quite clearly violent individuals who have been convicted. The courts have realised this and they have been properly brought to justice."