The Michael Sams Trial: Detectives blame escape on fog and loss of radio contact

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The Independent Online
SENIOR detectives from West Midlands and West Yorkshire police have rejected criticisms of their handling of the operation to track down and arrest Michael Sams.

While holding Stephanie Slater at his warehouse, Sams was able to escape with pounds 175,000 in ransom money despite being surrounded by a cordon of detectives at a remote spot in South Yorkshire.

Phil Thomas, Assistant Chief Constable (Crime) of West Midlands police, said Sams had been able to escape because it was a foggy night and detectives had lost radio contact with the courier, Kevin Watts, a colleague of Miss Slater. Sams, who had led Mr Watts along a complicated ransom trail through northern England, brought his car to a halt on a bridge above a disused railway line, where there were instructions to put the money on a tray on the parapet. Hiding below, Sams jerked the money down using a rope attached to the tray and escaped along the track on a moped.

Mr Thomas said that Sams had passed 'extremely closely' to the encircling officers, who were among more than 1,000 detectives from three different regional crime squads conducting the operation to follow Mr Watts. Mr Thomas added: 'We faced horrendous problems. At the time there was five yards' visibility for most of the operation. He knew the territory and used a very simple method of stopping the courier.' Senior detectives refused to give further details of the surveillance operation but confirmed that Sams could have heard the police helicopter which had been hovering above the area.

Mr Thomas said that a bug had not been placed in the money because of the likelihood that Sams, who was known to be competent with electronics, could use a scanner. He emphasised that throughout, the police had been most concerned to save the life of Miss Slater. Of the five priorities drawn up, her safety had been at the top and the recovery of the money at the bottom.

Tom Cook, Assistant Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, also rejected suggestions that police should have issued a nation-wide alert during late 1991 when Sams was making a series of threats by letter to abduct another prostitute.

Mr Cook said they had taken an 'operational decision' not to make this widely known, although warnings were issued locally by vice squad officers.

(Photographs omitted)

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