Burglars steal £100k from trainer Howard Johnson's safe

TRAINER Howard Johnson has spoken of his horror after armed raiders held him and his wife, Sue, at gunpoint and robbed them of more than £100,000.

Johnson, 56, was reading the newspaper at his farm outside Crook, County Durham, on Sunday night when two men in balaclavas broke down his front door and forced him to open his safe. "I have never been as frightened in my life before – and I have been kicked by bulls and horses and was nearly killed by a cow," said Johnson. "Sue was shaking. I thought she had had a heart attack."

The robbers, armed with a revolver and a 7in knife, smashed their way into his home at White Lea Farm in Roddymoor at about 10.30pm. Earlier, Johnson – who had Royal Rosa running in Saturday's Grand National – had spotted a car nearby as he finished his jobs for the day but thought it belonged to a "courting couple".

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He said: "All of a sudden I heard a horrendous thud – I thought a picture had come off the wall. I jumped up and rushed to the door and there was two of them saying, 'We're going to get you. Open the door'. They were braying (hitting] on it and I couldn't keep them back. They overpowered me and chucked me against the glass doors. I shouted up to my wife Sue, 'We're getting burgled'."

Johnson, who trains Scots-born owner Graham Wylie's string of top-class horses, was held at gunpoint while one of the robbers armed with a knife went upstairs to the couple's bedroom where Johnson's wife had been resting, and she was brought down.

The trainer said the men forced him to open his safe, and took away "six figures" of cash.

They then went upstairs and also stole money he had won at Aintree at the weekend. He said it was lucky that their five-year-old granddaughter was not staying with them, as had been planned.

The robbers fled, but left a chilling warning not to call the police for three hours or they would shoot the couple. Armed police were on the scene within minutes after the Johnsons raised the alarm. The couple were interviewed overnight and were unable to return to their home yesterday until forensic examinations were carried out. Johnson said: "I couldn't act, they would have killed us. I just kept cool. They (the robbers] never got excited and they weren't shaking, they were professionals."

The trainer said the money taken was being saved up to buy his wife a dream cottage. "It's just as well we had the cash. If we didn't, I don't think I'd be talking to you now," he said. "This is the biggest fright I have ever had."

Durham Police confirmed investigations into the robbery are under way. Detective Inspector Simon Orton said: "There are significant lines of inquiry which we are following at the moment."

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