Recovering the 'Madonna of the Yarnwinder'

November 24 2011

Two men cleared of attempted extortion and handling Leonardo's Madonna of the Yarnwinder have given their story to the Daily Mail. It's worth a read, but here's the story in a nutshell.

'Private detectives' and liverpool pub owners Robbie Graham (above) and John Doyle were charged with conspiring to extort £4.25m for the safe return of the Madonna, which was stolen from the Duke of Buccleuch's Drumlanrig Castle in 2003. But Graham and Doyle claimed they were acting as middle men who recovered the picture from a shady 'Liverpool businessman', in return for £700,000 in cash - money which had been given to them by a local solicitor, Marshall Ronald. Ronald was in turn negotiating with solicitors acting for the Duke's insurers, Hiscox. On 3rd October 2007 Graham and Doyle handed over the cash in the car park of a Merseyside pub, and walked away with the picture. The cash had been taken by Ronald from his firm's client account. Ronald believed he had negotiated a multi-million pound reward from Hiscox's solicitors. But it turned out that the contact at the Duke's insurers with whom Ronald had been negotiating to return the painting, and secure the reward, was an undercover policeman. All three were arrested, along with two others. Meanwhile, the unnamed 'Liverpool villains' got away with their £700,000...

All five men were cleared when the jury delivered a verdict of 'not proven'. The Scottish legal system allows for three verdicts, guilty, not guilty, and not proven.

Read the story for yourself, but I find the whole thing a little curious. Graham and Doyle say they were initially contacted by the Liverpool villains because of a website they ran, Stolen Stuff Reunited, a company which Ronald help them set up. Here's the website. It looks a little unsophisticated. It says Graham and Doyle's private investigations company is called Crown Private Investigations. According to Companies House, Crown Private Investigations Ltd has been dissolved. Stolen Stuff Reunited has also been dissolved. I'd be interested to know when the 'Stolen Stuff Reunited website was first set up. According to the Whois information for the domain, it was created on 10th June 2010, and registered in the name of Chaz Brooks Communications Ltd. It's curious that a specific Google search for 'Stolen Stuff Reunited' confined to the time the said 'Liverpool villains' might have been googling it doesn't reveal very much. I wonder how these villains came across the site? What do you think?

Still, at least the picture was safely returned...

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