Solicitor denies being axe-wielding thief of duke’s Da Vinci masterpiece
By John Robertson
A SOLICITOR strongly denied that he was an axe-wielding robber who stole a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece from a Scottish stately home.
The High Court in Edinburgh yesterday heard a tape recording of detectives questioning Marshall Ronald, 53, after finding him with the painting.
Madonna of the Yarnwinder was stolen from Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire four years earlier.
nald and four others face a charge of trying to extort more than £4 million in return for the painting’s safe return to its owner, the Duke of Buccleuch.
None of them is accused of playing a part in the armed robbery in August 2003.
But at the end of a lengthy interview on 4 October 2007, Detective Sergeant Colin Burnie confronted Ronald with an allegation that, along with others, he had attacked a tour guide at Drumlanrig Castle, threatened her with an axe and robbed the duke of his treasured painting.
Ronald, of Skelmersdale, Lancashire, replied that he had never been to the castle then, did not know the tour guide and had never heard of the Leonardo da Vinci painting at that time.
“I have never robbed the Duke of Buccleuch,” he told police.
Ronald told them he was concerned that, after questioning about his role in the recovery of the painting, he was charged with robbery.
“In short, I absolutely deny any involvement in the robbery and what I have done is everything in my power to safely recover that painting in the best way I know as a professional lawyer,” he said.
Ronald was detained in the Glasgow offices of law firm HBJ Gateley Wareing at the end of an undercover police operation.
As part of the operation, arrangements had been made for the painting to be delivered from an unknown location in England to Glasgow so it could be examined and verified as the genuine Leonardo work.
In the interview, Ronald said he had been working on returning the painting for several weeks, following an approach by two clients, Robert Graham and John Doyle, who had said they might be able to assist in “repatriating” it.
He insisted: “I have not been covert in any way at all. I have not done anything wrong. I have done something, I think, quite extraordinary.”
Ronald stated that he and the clients had visited Drumlanrig and had come to appreciate just how much Madonna of the Yarnwinder had meant to the ninth Duke of Buccleuch, its owner at the time.
“We did the tour… our motivation was: We are going to make this (the return] happen. Jack (Doyle] is a worrier and several times he may have jeopardised the operation, saying this was a sting and that we were going to get arrested.
“Myself and Robbie (Graham] said we don’t care if we get arrested because we are doing the right thing.”
He agreed that he stood to make a lot of money from the deal.
He claimed he and the others had been “devastated” not to have managed to return the painting before the Duke of Buccleuch died in September 2007, to be succeeded by his son, the tenth duke.
On trial with Ronald of Highmeadow, Ravenscroft, Upholland, Skelmersdale, are Robert Graham, 57, of Gawhill Lane, Aughton, Ormskirk, Lancashire; John Doyle, 61, of Summerwood Lane, Halsall, Ormskirk, Lancashire; solicitor Calum Jones, 45, of Knockbuckle Road, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, and solicitor David Boyce, 63, of Clark Street, Airdrie, Lanarkshire.
They deny conspiring to extort £4,250,000 or, alternatively, attempting to extort the money.
A second charge, also denied, alleges that the five accused attempted to defeat the ends of justice by getting one of the undercover officers to sign an agreement that police would not be told about what was happening.
The trial continues.