Judge in Dome trial 'fell asleep'

A leader of an armed gang jailed for trying to steal £200m in diamonds from the Millennium Dome said yesterday that he should be freed because his trial judge fell asleep.

Lawyers for Raymond Betson, at the opening of his appeal against his 18-year sentence for robbery, said that they were trying to trace two witnesses who were present at the Old Bailey when Judge Coombe allegedly nodded off. Betson, 41, from Chatham, Kent, was sentenced last year for the raid in November 2000 when more than 100 armed police officers stopped the gang from smashing open the De Beers exhibition vault in the Dome. They planned to take the 777-carat Millennium Star and 11 rare blue diamonds - although the gems had been secretly replaced with fakes. At the Court of Appeal yesterday, Edmund Romilly, who is representing Betson, said: "Statements from two people present at the trial show that the judge fell asleep on a number of occasions."

Mr Romilly added: "Statements I have seen suggest that the learned judge fell asleep not just during a closing speech, but also during the evidence."