THE ringleaders behind the audacious attempt to snatch £200 million worth of diamonds from the Millennium Dome have been refused the right to appeal against their convictions - despite their trial judge’s admission that he had nodded off during the closing arguments.
Raymond Betson, 41, from Chatham, Kent, and William Cockran, 50, from London, each jailed for 18 years for plotting what would have been the biggest robbery in history, claimed the judge had distracted the jury by snoring loudly, thus rendering their convictions unsafe.
They cited Judge Michael Coombe’s behaviour in court in February 2002 as one of the main grounds for appeal.
"It would raise in the minds of the jury the impression that the judge had such a dim view of the defence case that he could not be bothered to stay awake," the two men’s lawyer, Edmund Romilly, told the three appeal judges.
Yesterday, Lord Justice Christopher Rose, one of the appeal judges, said Judge Coombe had "very frankly" admitted falling asleep.
"It doesn’t matter whether he was snoring or not. If he was dozing off, he wasn’t paying the attention he ought to have been," the lord justice said. "The question we have to address is whether it is arguable that, in consequence, these convictions were unsafe."
Lord Justice Rose and his fellow judges went on to refuse Betson and Cockran permission to appeal against their convictions. However, they did give permission for the men, two of the five convicted for their parts in the raid on 7 November, 2000, to appeal against their jail sentences.
The judges said they would give reasons for their decision today, when they will hear an appeal from Aldo Ciarrocchi, 33, of London, against his 15-year sentence for the same crime.
The audacious plan to snatch the De Beers diamond exhibit was meticulously planned by "career robbers" Betson and Cockran, along with four others, one of whom has never been caught. They used a mechanical digger to smash their way into the tourist attraction while a getaway speedboat waited across the Thames.
However, the gems had been replaced with fakes and an army of police officers was waiting to swoop.