Three charged over £53m Securitas robbery

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The Independent Online

Detectives investigating Britain's biggest robbery charged two men and one woman last night with offences relating to the armed raid and theft of £53m.

Police charged John Fowler, 57, a flamboyant car dealer whose farmhouse is at the centre of the search for the stolen money, with conspiracy to rob the Securitas depot in Tonbridge last Wednesday. The father-of-three from Elderden Farm, near Staplehurst in Kent, also faces three charges of kidnapping the depot manager Colin Dixon, his wife Lynn and their nine-year-old son Craig, held hostage during the raid.

A large amount of cash is believed to have been found at Mr Fowler's house and in outbuildings at the farm. Police sources said the developments were a "crucial" breakthrough.

A second car salesman, Stuart Royle, 47, was charged with conspiracy to rob. Kim Shackelton, a 39-year-old woman from Maidstone, was charged with handling stolen goods.

They were due to appear at Maidstone magistrates' court at 9.30am today. Elizabeth Howe, chief crown prosecutor for Kent, said: "We have preferred these very serious charges after due examination of the existing evidence."

Kent's Assistant Chief Constable, Adrian Leppard, said he "remained pleased" with progress on the case. He warned, however, that the investigation was "likely to continue for many months and possibly years as we track down those responsible and, indeed, all of the stolen money ".

Mr Fowler is one of five people being held in custody. His wife, Linda, 48, arrested on Monday and questioned about the robbery, was released last night. A further seven people have been arrested and released on bail.

One of two other men being held is Lea Rusha, 23, a kick-boxer from Southborough, near Tunbridge Wells. He was arrested when his home was raided and searched on Saturday. Mr Rusha has fought in professional fights in the UK and overseas, and stars in a brutal DVD called Extreme Fighters.

Mr Fowler was arrested on Sunday in Tankerton, near Whitstable, after police marksmen shot the tyres of the BMW car in which he and another man were travelling. Both men were arrested by up to a dozen armed officers and were taken away handcuffed. Within hours, teams of police and forensic officers went to Mr Fowler's estate.

The Fowlers' home has a swimming pool and tennis court set in about two acres of landscaped gardens. The property, worth more than £2m, is about 30 minutes' drive from the Securitas depot where 14 security staff were tied up in the early hours while a gang of six emptied it of cash. Mr Fowler owns several properties in the Maidstone area and a villa in Spain. Former work colleagues described him as a successful car dealer who lives a colourful and lavish lifestyle. He is said to have made a small fortune with a dealership in Maidstone, which he lost, and to have continued his trade from his farmhouse.

The businessman is said to be devoted to his children: Amy, 21, Harriet, 15, and Jack, 14. He is said to take two or three foreign holidays each year. Photographs have been published of Mr Fowler being partly undressed by a strippergram at a company party in 1996.

The police have recovered most of the vehicles used in the raid, including a van that was left with £1.3m inside.