Madonna of the Yarnwinder was stolen in August 2003
Two men posing as tourists threatened to kill a castle tour guide before grabbing a painting by Leonardo da Vinci and escaping through a window, a court was told yesterday.
Alison Russell, 25, told the High Court in Edinburgh that one of the men covered her mouth with his hand before forcing her to the floor of the staircase gallery at Drumlanrig Castle.
Another tour guide, Sarah Skene, 73, said that after hearing a commotion she saw one of the men with an axe, standing in front of Madonna of the Yarnwinder while the other removed it. As an alarm sounded the men escaped down an outside staircase, she said.
The evidence emerged as five other men went on trial accused of demanding £4.25 million for the safe return of the painting, estimated to be worth £50 million. None of the defendants is accused of theft. The painting was stolen from the castle — the family seat of the Duke of Buccleuch — in Dumfries & Galloway in August 2003. The 9th Duke of Buccleuch died weeks before it was recovered by police in 2007.
Ms Russell told jurors that the two men had appeared in the staircase gallery shortly after the castle opened at 11am. As they did not seem interested in her description of the room’s highlights she had stood back. It was then she was attacked, she said: “He came from behind, put his hand over my mouth and told me I had to lie down on the ground or they would kill me.”
The five men standing trial — Marshall Ronald, 53, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire; Robert Graham, 57, from Ormskirk, Lancashire; John Doyle, 61, also from Ormskirk; Calum Jones, 45, from Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire; and David Boyce, 63, from Airdrie, Lanarkshire — are accused of plotting to obtain money from the 9th Duke of Buccleuch, his son and their insurers Hiscox UK.
The accused are said to have “menaced” those they were attempting to extort money from, “putting them in a state of fear and alarm” that the painting would be withheld, damaged or destroyed if they did not pay the ransom.
The five men are accused of having met at the offices of the Glasgow solicitor’s firm Boyds, now HBJ Wareing, on July 30, 2007, to agree their plan. Less than two weeks later Mr Ronald is alleged to have contacted a chartered loss adjuster acting for the insurers, claiming that he could return the painting within 72 hours. He is said to have telephoned and e-mailed two men he thought were acting for the Duke, claiming that “volatile individuals” were involved who would “do something silly” if police were informed.
The indictment says he asked for £2 million to be put in an account with Marshalls Solicitors, and another £2.25 million in a Swiss bank account in his name. He is accused of paying £350,000 to Mr Graham who, with Mr Doyle, is said to have collected the painting from England and delivered it to Glasgow. Another charge alleges that the accused tried to get one of the men they thought were acting for the Duke to sign an agreement that police would not be told. The trial continues.
Da Vinci mode
• Madonna of the Yarnwinder was painted by Leonardo da Vinci between 1501 and 1510. It depicts a large baby Christ gazing at a cross-shaped yarnwinder, a sign that he may be aware of his impending crucifixion
• There has been some debate about whether the piece was in fact created by Leonardo. Experts think that the background was painted by another artist. Leonardo produced it for Florimond Robertet, a diplomat for the King of France
• Leonardo began the painting, now estimated at £50 million, six years before The Last Supper and three years before completing Mona Lisa
• It is on show at the National Gallery of Edinburgh and will return to Drumlanrig Castle in the summer when the stately home is open.