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Kidnapper 'was trying for perfect crime': Man admits abducting estate agent but denies killing teenager

MICHAEL SAMS, a Nottinghamshire toolmaker, yesterday admitted kidnapping the Birmingham estate agent Stephanie Slater and keeping her for a week bound, gagged and blindfolded inside a coffin-style box.

But Sams, 51, denied murdering Julie Dart, 18, of Leeds, who the prosecution say was beaten and strangled when his meticulous plot to commit the perfect crime went wrong.

The case was a 'chilling and remarkable story' which would often horrify them, Richard Wakely, QC, told the jury on the opening day of the trial at Nottingham Crown Court.

Sams, he alleged, had set himself the project of kidnap and blackmail, but was 'so arrogant, so amoral' that he treated it as a game of 'catch-me-if- you-can'. He wanted to prove to himself that kidnap and blackmail could be successfully committed.

Miss Dart, who was murdered 10 days after her kidnap in July 1991, had been 'the innocent victim of his campaign to commit what he regarded as the perfect crime'. But he was not deterred and sought another victim.

Sams, of Sutton on Trent, near Newark, admits kidnapping and imprisoning Miss Slater in January last year, and attempting to blackmail Shipways estate agents, her employers, for pounds 175,000. He denies the murder and kidnap of Miss Dart and making two attempts to blackmail Leeds police, each for pounds 140,000; he also denies a pounds 200,000 blackmail attempt on British Rail.

The court was told that Miss Dart was working as a prostitute in Leeds in July 1991 when Sams - who had planned her kidnap 'down to the last detail' - lured her into his car. He tied her up and took her back to his Newark workshop, where he forced her into a wooden box. The next day, ransom notes were sent.

Miss Dart suffered from claustrophobia and Mr Wakely suggested that she had tried to escape and that Sams had killed her because she had seen him undisguised. Her body was found in a field near Grantham.

The court was told that Sams wrote further letters to Leeds police saying he would kidnap another prostitute unless he received the money.

The Crown had established that he had planned to guide police to a series of telephone boxes, before directing them to a bridge on the M1 where they would leave the money. The plan went wrong, however, when a police officer was unable to unhook one of the telephones.

In October 1991, Sams switched his attention to British Rail, Mr Wakely alleged, and demanded pounds 200,000 to stop him derailing a train, describing how he would do this in convincing detail. But a planned ransom drop using a telephone box at a railway station failed when a BR employee failed to use the correct password.

In January last year, Sams, posing as a prospective purchaser and with his features disguised, met Miss Slater at an empty house in north Birmingham. As she was showing him around the house, he pulled out a knife and forced her, bound and blindfolded, into his car. He then drove back to his workshop in Newark, stopping en route to telephone a ransom demand to her employers.

Mr Wakely said that Miss Slater experienced 'real terror and horror'. She was blindfolded and gagged and kept confined inside a coffin-like box placed inside an upended wheely-bin. Sams told her that if she moved she risked either being electrocuted or crushed to death by boulders suspended above her.

Mr Wakely said that Miss Slater displayed 'remarkable courage and heroism'. 'Stephanie was desperately cold and terrified. She thought she was going to die, but she realised that her life was in his hands and her only chance of survival lay in doing exactly what he said.' During the next seven days, she was only allowed out of the box to relieve herself or to eat. But Mr Wakely said she built up his trust, and established a rapport, making it difficult for him to kill her.' It worked because he was flattered that she deliberately showed how dependent she was on him,' Mr Wakely said.

The jury was told Sams made a series of ransom demands to Shipways and eventually arranged for Kevin Watts, the branch manager, to deliver the money. He was made to follow a complicated trail across the Pennines before arriving at a bridge above a disused railway, where he left the money on a tray on the parapet.

Mr Wakely said that despite the resources of the police, Sams was able to get the money by standing underneath the bridge and pulling a rope attached to the tray. The night was foggy and police had no idea that there was a railway line below.

The trial, which is expected to last eight weeks, continues today.

(Photograph omitted)