Family held at gunpoint by bogus housebuyer

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The Independent Online

A man wanted by police over the abduction at gunpoint of a family after pretending he wanted to buy their home was jailed for a similar offence six years ago.

Officers investigating the crime in Leeds want to question Peter Hughes, 58, a man they described as dangerous.

Marilyn Rowell, her two young children and a family friend were forced at gunpoint to drive their captor for 45 minutes and hand over £60 in cash. Before fleeing, the man fired a shot into the car floor.

The four were abducted on Wednesday evening after the gunman posed as a potential housebuyer and visited Ms Rowell at her £250,000 home.

Hughes was sentenced in 1994 to 10 years after luring James McFarlane, an estate agent, to an empty flat in Surrey, producing a gun and gagging him. Then he waited for Stefan Buddin, the flat's owner, to return and told him: "I am going to kill you. You are an evil man." He gagged and handcuffed both men and stole Mr McFarlane's wallet and car. Hughes handed himself in the following day. At the Old Bailey trial for those offences, Judge Pownall told him: "You are manipulative and dangerous - the quicker you are out of circulation the better."

Ms Rowell gave the man a tour of her £250,000 home in Horsforth, Leeds, before he said he would return with his wife. He returned that evening and sat for an hour claiming to be waiting for his wife.

Ms Rowell, 46, eventually agreed to drive him to find her with her children, Gabby, 11, and Gregory, eight, and friend Dawn Birks, 39. The man sat in the passenger seat.

"We had driven a few yards when he suddenly pulled out this gun," said Ms Rowell. She was then forced to drive to her business in Horsforth and fetch £60 from the petty cash box before going to bed and breakfast accommodation to collect the man's suitcase.

"By this time he was getting very agitated," she said. "Suddenly he pointed the gun down and it went off. He was so highly strung I thought he might shoot us all.

"I just cannot sleep because all I can see is his face."

The man then ordered the hostages out of the car and drove off. The vehicle, a white Volvo estate, has not been recovered.

The estate agents Whitegates, which arranged the viewing of Ms Rowell's home, has said it will review its procedures because of the incident.

Detective Inspector Steve Payne, leading the investigation, said: "We believe the man is dangerous and appeal to the public not approach him or the white Volvo.

"The man we would like to question is known to us as Peter Robert Hughes, but we also believe he uses the name Bob Cahill. He has connections in London and Surrey."

Asked about a possible link with the case of the estate agent Suzy Lamplugh, who has been missing since 1986, Det Insp Payne said he would not rule anything out at this stage.