South Scotland

Leonardo da Vinci case and investigation costs revealed

Madonna with the Yarnwinder
Image caption The painting was stolen in southern Scotland in 2003

The costs of a Leonardo da Vinci theft investigation and extortion case at the High Court have exceeded £350,000.

The figures were obtained by the BBC via Freedom of Information requests.

Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary has spent nearly £250,000 on its operations since the Madonna of the Yarnwinder was stolen in 2003.

Prosecution costs of two extortion cases, which did not result in any convictions, have been estimated at a little more than £130,000.

The figure does not include defence costs for the accused during their trial.

The artwork, worth an estimated £40m, was taken from the Duke of Buccleuch's Drumlanrig Estate north of Dumfries in August 2003.

It sparked one of the biggest police operations in the history of Scotland's smallest force.

About £25,000 was used in police and support staff overtime, expenses and investigation costs in the first year of inquiries.

Det Ch Insp Michael Dalgleish said the theft investigation had been a "significant" one.

"When the crime happened it is important to realise what type of crime we were investigating," he said.

"This was a brazen daylight attack at Drumlanrig Castle with two men who entered the premises armed - one with an axe, one with a crowbar - and assaulted a young female member of staff and threatened her with violence.

"They stole a painting that is obviously significant in terms of value and art worldwide.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the people involved in the planning for this crime and the actual execution of it are operating at the very highest level and are involved in organised crime in the UK."

Annual police costs dwindled to a little more than £100 in 2005/06.

However, they rose to about £185,000 between 2007 and 2009 as an undercover investigation began.

'Not unreasonable'

Det Ch Insp Dalgleish said police had been "duty bound" to follow up on information they received that someone had possession of the painting and was seeking money for its return.

"That operation was fairly lengthy and by the very nature of it, it was sophisticated and delicate," he explained.

"It resulted in some costs being incurred but I think if you look at the seven or eight years since the painting was stolen and balance out the costs that Dumfries and Galloway have incurred I don't think it's unreasonable by any means.

"If you were to ask me would I make the same decisions again in terms of that undercover deployment - yes, I would without question."

The investigation resulted in five men being accused of conspiring to extort £4.25m for the painting's safe return at a lengthy trial in the High Court in Edinburgh earlier this year.

The case was found not proven against three individuals with the other two found not guilty.

Charges against three other men accused of a similar extortion conspiracy were dropped shortly afterwards.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said it did not routinely record the costs of prosecuting individual cases.

However, it was able to identify a number of areas of expenditure in the case which went to trial.

Case preparation costs, trial preparation, preliminary hearings and the trial itself were estimated to have cost £134,713.

The costs of the second case were "absorbed" within the estimates for the first.

Despite the lack of convictions, Det Ch Insp Dalgleish said that gathering sufficient evidence to take the case to court was something the force was proud of.

"The jury will make the decision that they are charged to do, that is beyond my control," he said.

"For us the result, if you like, was getting the evidence against those individuals to that position where the jury can make a decision."

He added that police remained determined to find whoever took the painting nearly seven years ago.

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