The Michael Sams Trial: Train spotter's obsession left chain of clues

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL SAMS turned the skills of obsessive train spotting to kidnap and ransom with devastating effect, evading police for almost nine months in a game according to rules of his own making, writes Terry Kirby.

But it was the compulsions of his hobby that proved to be his downfall. His elaborate game left behind an array of clues that eventually led to his arrest and conviction for the murder of Julie Dart and attempts to blackmail British Rail.

Sams's home in Sutton on Trent, Nottinghamshire, is next to the east- coast main line and is a shrine to his hobby. His model railway occupies one room and the house is filled with books and photographs of trains and engine name plates.

The train spotter's habit of recording everything in detail was displayed in the extortion letters Sams sent to the police about Miss Dart and British Rail. But they gave a chain of clues: spelling errors, fibres under sticky tape and postmarks.

Sams's need to record his detailed plans also betrayed him through deleted files on his word processor. These contained fragments of complicated ransom trails - all involving railway stations or disused railway lines.

The clues to Miss Dart's killer were linked inexorably to the railway badge on the coat of the man who admitted kidnapping Stephanie Slater.

There were few signs of Sams's criminal potential in his youth. Born in Keighley, West Yorkshire, 51 years ago, Sams had a conventional upbringing and joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 20. After three years he returned to Keighley and worked as a lift engineer and then central heating engineer, eventually setting up his own company.

In the early Seventies he is believed to have become attracted to the petty criminal activities of a group of friends, particularly one man who claimed to have beaten and outwitted the police.

In 1978, he spent a few months in prison for stealing a car and making a fraudulent insurance claim; during his imprisonment cancer forced the amputation of his right leg. After prison he had financial problems and in the early Eighties he sold his company to work for Black & Decker for five years. In the mid-Eighties he set up a power tools company in Peterborough and Newark on Trent.

His first wife, now Susan Oake, 49, and one of their sons, Charles, were responsible for his arrest. Mrs Oake, who divorced Sams 15 years ago, contacted police after hearing his taped voice and seeing an artist's impression of him on BBC television's Crimewatch programme. He was arrested the following day.

Police say his third wife, Teena, had also seen the artist's impression on television and had remarked to him on its similarity.

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