The five defendants who were tried for attempting to extort £4.25m from the owner of this painting, Madonna of the Yarnwinder, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci have been cleared in Edinburgh. Three defendants were found not guilty, while the other two received not proven verdicts. Not proven is a Scots law verdict, essentially just as good as not guilty, but allows a jury to acknowledge they thought a defendant committed wrongdoing, though not enough to prove the offence.
My initial response: I think this was a terrible verdict, though I didn’t get the benefit of hearing the whole trial. Based on published reports, these defendants made it easier for an art thief to profit off a theft, and are just as culpable as the men who stole the work.
From the Guardian:
The jury at the high court in Edinburgh decided today that the prosecution had failed to prove that the three solicitors and two private detectives were guilty of a complex conspiracy targeting the Duke of Buccleuch, one of the country’s most senior peers. The five were accused of threatening to destroy Madonna of the Yarnwinder, a Da Vinci painting that was insured for £15m but unofficially valued at £30m to £50m – unless the duke paid them £4.25m for its return.
The jury said the charges against Marshall Ronald, 53, a solicitor from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, and Robert Graham, 57, a private detective from Ormskirk, Lancashire, were not proven – the Scottish verdict that stops short of declaring someone not guilty. After deliberating for two days the jury also decided that Graham’s partner, John Doyle, 61, also from Ormskirk, and two senior commercial lawyers from Scotland, Calum Jones, 45, from Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, and David Boyce, 63, from Airdrie, Lanarkshire, were not guilty of the charges.
Doyle, Graham and Ronald were jubilant. They insisted they had been honestly trying to broker the return of the 500-year-old painting – one of only two Da Vinci paintings in private hands – in return for what they believed was a fair reward. They accused two undercover police officers who posed as the duke’s agents of deliberately conning them into believing their offer had been accepted.
The prosecution alleged that all five men were guilty of an elaborate extortion attempt: they had repeatedly refused to alert the police that they knew how to recover the stolen painting, and had threatened that “volatile” individuals would destroy the Da Vinci unless their ransom demands were met.
After leaving court, Doyle and Graham insisted that they were still entitled to a reward. Doyle said: “What we did was to bring back a culturally significant masterpiece, which is something neither the police nor the insurers could do. We brought it back and we have been through two and a half years of hell since.”
- Severin Carrell, Five cleared of trying to extort £4.25m from duke for return of stolen Leonardo painting, The Guardian, April 21, 2010.