I was drawn to the recent coverage of the Gleneagles Robbery Trial. It brought back fond memories – a raid right out of the 1980s, those heady days when as a young Crime Squad detective, my team and I chased gangs of armed robbers from their unlikely bases of Barlanark and Ballingry as they ranged across the Central Belt robbing banks and post offices.
It was real ‘Cops and Robbers’ stuff and the Gleneagles raid was straight from that playbook. A team of three is ideal, small enough to maintain security, big enough to handle any trouble. Weapons of choice – a gun, real or imitation, to terrorise, plus sledgehammers and machetes to breach display cases or use against any attempt at heroic interventiom.
But the key is planning, speed and surprise, the aim is to shock the victims, paralyse them into inaction, the more noise and aggression the better. Steal the highest-value booty and away. If the robbers get it right, it’s in and out in minutes before even trained security staff can gather themselves. Then the escape. At least two cars are required, one for the initial getaway, then a quick swap to throw off any pursuers, the second car to be burned out in some misleading location.
It all seemed such an adventure back then in the 80s but on reflection it was anything but fun. It may sound like an episode of ‘The Sweeney‘ but the robbers were anything but merry-hearted rascals, invariably they were brutish thugs happy to leave a trail of destruction in pursuit of what was usually a paltry sum. And the personal damage was profound; victims and bystanders caught up in one of these raids, even if uninjured, were severely traumatised. Not such a ‘Cops and Robbers’ adventure after all.
But if the Gleneagles Raid was right out of the 80s, the subsequent inquiry came from the top drawer of 21st century investigation. Digital forensics now augment traditional techniques, the painstaking recovery, preservation and expert analysis of phone records and thousands of hours of CCTV has given investigators a whole new set of tools. It’s incredibly specialised and costly work which only the largest of police forces can sustain.
But aside from the trip down memory lane, it wasn’t the crime or even the first-class investigation that really caught my eye – it was the trial and the work of the Crown.
For some reason, we pay little heed to the actual prosecution of such cases; it’s usually the defence lawyers with their sharp suits and sound bites we see on the court steps.
Meanwhile, out of the limelight, a Procurator Fiscal or Advocate Depute is beavering away to pull together a massive police investigation to make it fit for a jury to hear and understand. It’s a tricky business, not only has the Crown case to be procedurally correct, it has to make sense to 15 ordinary folk. In the recent past, the Crown team for such a trial would have been three or four. But cost cuts have hit all areas including the Crown Office so for the Gleneagles trial there was one young but very able Advocate Depute, Jane Farquharson QC.
It was a difficult trial, a wealth of digital forensic evidence there may have been but it was all circumstantial. It’s easy to lose a jury in such detail, confuse them or bore them into a stupor. It was to Jane Farquharson’s great credit that she secured the conviction of two ‘career criminals’. So in a time when prosecutors get scant recognition and little thanks – let’s give credit where it’s due. Thanks and well done to the Crown.
Tom Wood is a writer and former Deputy Chief Constable of Lothian & Borders Police