Stolen da Vinci masterpiece: We never did a thing wrong – now we'd like £2m reward

FIVE men were cleared yesterday of being part of a plot to extort £4.25 million for the return of a stolen Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece.

• John Doyle, left, and Robert Graham enjoy a drink in an Edinburgh pub after a High Court jury returned not-proven verdicts in the Da Vinci plot case. Picture: PA

A jury returned majority not-proven verdicts against English lawyer Marshall Ronald, 53, and Merseyside private investigators Robert Graham, 57, and John Doyle, 61. Two Scottish solicitors, Calum Jones, 45, and David Boyce, 63, were discharged from the dock on unanimous not-guilty verdicts.

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Mr Doyle said he believed he and Mr Graham were now entitled to a share of a 2 million reward for helping to return Madonna of the Yarnwinder, said to be worth more than 20m. He also said the painting would now be in Russia but for his intervention.

The Crown had alleged during an eight-week trial at the High Court in Edinburgh that the men conspired in 2007 to extort 4.25m for the safe return of the painting, which had been stolen four years earlier from the Duke of Buccleuch's Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire.

The accused had insisted, however, that they were merely striking a legitimate commercial deal with the duke to try to "repatriate" the painting from the hands of criminals.

Mr Ronald had been the man most heavily involved in discussions with "John Craig", who he had thought was the duke's representative, but who was, in fact, an undercover policeman.

He insisted that when he had said "volatile individuals" holding the painting might "do something very silly", it was not a threat, just stating a fact.

The covert operation led to the recovery of the painting at a meeting in the offices of a Glasgow law firm on 4 October, 2007. It now hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.

In 2001, Mr Ronald was acquitted by an English court of being involved in a multi-million-dollar investment scheme fraud. Yesterday, he gave a curt "no comment" on being asked how the two walks to freedom compared. He simply wanted to thank his legal team, led by Donald Findlay, QC, for doing a "brilliant job".

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During the undercover operation, Mr Ronald took 350,000 of a client's money to secure the release of the painting from the criminals who were in possession of it. In evidence, he admitted a "cardinal sin" in taking the cash, and he faces disciplinary action by the Law Society in England, and possible prosecution.

He said: "It is entirely on the cards. I will have to wait and see, and I have got to deal with it."

The Scottish solicitors both remained tight-lipped as they left the court.

Mr Doyle said: "If we had been found guilty of these ridiculous charges, no stolen art would ever come back again. What we did was to bring back a culturally significant masterpiece, which is something neither the police nor the insurers could do."

He added: "I want to make one thing clear. We never asked for any money whatsoever. We asked, 'Is this legal? And if so, and we return the painting, is there a reward?' We were told, yes, it was legal and, yes, there was a reward of 2m, which was offered to us by an undercover policeman acting as the agent for the Duke of Buccleuch and with the full knowledge of his superiors.

"We kept our side of the bargain. We now expect 'John Craig' to keep his. I do believe we are entitled to a reward."

Mr Graham said the trial should never have happened. "At every step of the way in bringing back this priceless painting, we checked that what we were doing was legal. If it was dodgy, why did we get solicitors involved, offer to take the painting to a police station and agree to hand it over in the boardroom of a leading law firm?"

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Mr Doyle and Mr Graham ran an online business, Stolen Stuff Reunited, and had been contacted by intermediaries of those holding the painting, suggesting it could be surrendered for 700,000. The pair consulted Mr Ronald, who sought advice on Scots law from Mr Jones and Mr Boyce. Mr Ronald negotiated a 2m deal, and a side deal of another 2.25m for himself. The side deal was to be kept secret from the others.

No-one has been prosecuted for the theft, and Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary said it remained a "live investigation".

Det Supt Kate Thomson said: "The force accept the decision of the court today and would like to thank the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, and Strathclyde Police for their assistance in this inquiry, which did secure the return of the painting."

The five men at the centre of the extraordinary case

Robert Graham

THE Jaguar-owning, former Liverpool publican, 57, lost his wife between being charged with the Madonna of the Yarnwinder conspiracy and going to trial. He has three adult daughters. Known as "the Silver Fox", he and John Doyle had gone into private investigation, setting up Crown Investigations around 2002. It spawned their online business, Stolen Stuff Reunited, for people to seek the return of property that had sentimental value and would be of little worth to thieves.

Marshall Ronald

THE 53-year-old ran a one-man legal practice. Having qualified in 1984, he suffered brain damage in a road accident. A man never short of a word or two – it took police 20 minutes to get in a question – he was described as a "Walter Mitty". In 2001, he was cleared while a second man was jailed for an $8m fraud.

Calum Jones

A SOLICITOR for 23 years, and married to a solicitor, the 45-year-old father of two had become a specialist in corporate and insolvency law, working for HBJ Gateley Wareing. He helped set insolvency exams for UK lawyers and was also a law tutor. Jones was forced to resign after his arrest.

David Boyce

A GLASGOW University graduate, the 63-year-old did business with Ronald over the sale of a factory unit in 2002. Then, five years later, a call came about a painting. Ronald wanted a "kilt" put on any papers. Boyce ended up on trial, losing his job and qutting as a director of Clyde FC.

John Doyle

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ANOTHER Merseysider, and the person about whom the jury heard the least as he was the only one to exercise his right to silence. Aged 61, his close ties to Robert Graham included helping out at his pubs and driving for him.It was an old contact of Mr Doyle who went looking for him when criminals holding the da Vinci decided they would like to be rid of it. But Doyle was the most sceptical. He pulled out at one stage and had to be talked back on board by Graham.

New footage released as the hunt goes on for thieves

AS FIVE men were acquitted of conspiring to extort 4.25 million for the safe return of the stolen Leonardo da Vinci painting, the hunt for its thieves continued yesterday.

Police released new images of two men who visited the Duke of Buccleuch's Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire days before the theft.

The men were caught on CCTV on 15 August, 2003, a week before the masterpiece, worth about 20m, was stolen in a daylight raid. One man has grey hair and a goatee beard, while the younger man has dark hair and a short beard and moustache.

Both men are wearing light-coloured open-neck shirts over their trousers.

Detective Superintendent Kate Thomson, of Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary, said: "The theft of the da Vinci painting The Madonna of the Yarnwinder from Drumlanrig Castle in 2003 remains a live investigation. We would like to identify the two men who we believe may be able to assist us with our inquiries.

"The force accepts the decision of the court and would like to take the opportunity to thank the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, Strathclyde Police for their assistance in this inquiry, which did secure the return of the painting."

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