Stolen da Vinci masterpiece: They thought they'd be fêted by world's media – instead, it was the police who burst in
THE "Liverpool lads" Jack Doyle and Bob Graham had already made the local papers through their business, Stolen Stuff Reunited. The idea was to return property that had sentimental value to the owner and no real worth to the thief.
One day, a ceremonial sword was left outside their office in a black plastic bag, and they were proud to have traced the family of a late soldier from the Welsh Regiment and to have given it back. The event merited a photograph and a few paragraphs, and the newspaper cuttings became prized possessions of the pair.
But this was to be something on an altogether different scale. They would be fted by the world's media and become known internationally, not just in their little piece of Merseyside.
Jack Doyle, 61, and Bob "Silver Fox" Graham, 57, believed they were the men who would forever be lauded for returning the 20 million Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece Madonna of the Yarnwinder. As they imagined it, "the lady was going home", and it was all thanks to them.
The 500-year-old painting had been stolen in a daring daylight robbery at Drumlanrig Castle in August 2003. It had been in the family of the Duke of Buccleuch for generations and was a major tourist attraction.
Two men entered the castle as it opened and made their way directly to the main hall. "I started telling them a few things about what was in the room but they did not seem too interested in listening to me," recalled tour guide Alison Russell, 25.
"I stood back to let them have a look. One of them came from behind and put his hand over my mouth and told me I had to lie on the ground or he would kill me. I did as he asked me."
As one of the thieves stood guard with an axe, his accomplice removed the artwork from the wall. An alarm sounded and the men fled.
And that was the last to be seen of the masterpiece, at least in public, for four years. Until a friend of a friend went looking for Jack Doyle at a regular haunt, Bob Graham's pub. The man was given Mr Doyle's number and he phoned to say he might be able to produce the missing painting.
Mr Doyle and Mr Graham were unclear whether it was legal. So they turned to solicitor Marshall Ronald, 53. He said a return with no comebacks could be achieved, but he was worried the law might be different in Scotland. So he contacted David Boyce, 63, a partner in Boyds Solicitors of Glasgow, and he and a colleague, Calum Jones, 45, were brought on board.
A meeting of the five men took place in July 2007. The prosecution alleged it was the beginnings of a criminal conspiracy, but the men maintained they had simply been exploring whether the return of the painting could be achieved legally.
There followed a letter from Mr Ronald to loss adjuster Mark Dalrymple, who acted for insurer Hiscox UK and had offered a "substantial" reward – it would have been 50,000 to 100,000 – at the time of the theft. The Duke of Buccleuch had received 3.75m from Hiscox – for tax reasons, the painting was insured for only a fraction of its worth – but had the chance to repay the money and take back the painting were it ever to be found.
In his letter, Mr Ronald said his firm acted for clients who could assist in the return of the painting.
But Mr Dalrymple believed there was nothing to negotiate. Any information about the painting ought to be given to him or the police, and if it were recovered, the person supplying the information might be in line for the reward.
Two undercover police officers became involved and they struck a deal with Mr Ronald for
2m. A total of 700,000 was to go to those with the painting, with the rest, minus legal fees, shared by Mr Ronald, Mr Graham, Mr Doyle and two intermediaries known as J and Frank: about 50,000 a head.
A meeting was called in Glasgow for 4 October, 2007 where the painting would be produced to confirm its authenticity.
Mr Doyle and Mr Graham were pictured smiling and shaking hands over the painting. The atmosphere was shattered, however, when the door burst open and police gatecrashed the party. There was a warrant to search the office, they declared, and everyone was being detained.
The others appeared shocked and confused, but Mr Doyle remained the picture of calmness, staying in his seat, supping from a cup and munching a biscuit. He had always feared a "sting" and perhaps he realised he was, indeed, about to make headlines and add to his newspaper cuttings collection – only not in the way it had been planned.
THE Buccleuch family's Madonna of the Yarnwinder is one of no more than 20 works of art by Leonardo da Vinci thought to still exist.
It dates from around 1501 and depicts the Madonna with the infant Jesus holding a cross-shaped yarnwinder, symbolising the crucifixion.
The painting, valued at 20 million two years ago, had been in the Buccleuch family for more than 250 years.
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