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Car dealer 'became embroiled in £53m heist unwittingly'

JOHN FOWLER: played no part in the conspiracy, according to his QC
JOHN FOWLER: played no part in the conspiracy, according to his QC

A KENT car dealer who dumped money cages from the Securitas depot shortly after the £53 million Tonbridge robbery knew nothing of the heist before it happened, an Old Bailey jury has been told.

Alexander Cameron QC, defending 62-year-old John Fowler, said being involved with items connected to the robbery, after it happened, did not make him guilty of conspiracy to commit the crime.

The court had previously heard how Fowler and another person, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were seen dumping money cages from the robbery at a farm near Maidstone.

In his summing-up, Mr Cameron described Fowler an innocent man who became embroiled in Britain’s biggest cash robbery, by unwittingly carrying out favours for one of the alleged conspirators.

While Fowler had undeniably hired a Renault lorry used in the robbery, and allowed a van used in the kidnapping to be parked at his farm, he had only done so at the request of co-defendant Stuart Royle, the jury was told.

Mr Cameron said it was ridiculous to suggest he would have knowingly hired a lorry under his own name, and accused the prosecution of creating a “parallel universe” in which John Fowler was guilty.

Mr Cameron said: “What you shouldn’t do is decide what inference you’re going to draw, and then interpret the evidence to match it. That’s what the prosecution has done with John Fowler. He played no part in the planning of this conspiracy.”

He explained how Fowler had been travelling back from a family holiday in France the Sunday before the robbery, which had been the original date earmarked for executing the raid by the conspirators.

Members of the jury laughed as Mr Cameron painted a picture of an imagined telephone conversation between Stuart Royle and John Fowler, in which Fowler was asked to hire a lorry for “the world’s biggest cash robbery” using his own name.

He added: “Mr Fowler is 62, a car dealer ... I would ask you to treat him as a man of good character; he’s a family man, a man of substance, with just a year or two to go before his retirement.”

Mr Cameron said even the prosecution had described Mr Fowler as a “late add on”, so he could not have been involved in any conspiracy

Mr Cameron also questioned much of the evidence naming Elderden Farm, Staplehurst, where Fowler lives, as the place depot manager Colin Dixon, his wife and their child were held after being kidnapped, and as the place the gang divided the money after making their getaway.

He described this theory as the “weak link” in the case and said evidence suggesting the farm was used for this purpose was fatally flawed.

Lynn Dixon’s evidence could not be trusted, he said, as she was drawn into identifying Elderden Farm by police, who showed her DVDs and photos of the farm before taking her there.

Mr Cameron said: “The senior officer in charge, who took her to Elderden Farm, didn’t know she had been shown photos. It was really a very dangerous and quite wrong thing to have done.”

Mr Cameron also pointed to differences between Elderden Farm and Lynn Dixon’s description of the holding place.

One key point, he said, was the large garage described by Mrs Dixon at the location.

Mr Cameron said: “She said this could not be the place because the garage did not run the length of the yard.

“It’s a very big difference, and should be enough to say no, it cannot be Elderden Farm.”

Other people working in the vicinity of the farm on the night of the robbery, said Mr Cameron, did not notice any unusual activity.

Miles Reading, a finance director whose office overlooks the yard at Elderden Farm, was working for two-and-a-half hours while the robbers were alleged to have been there. Mr Cameron said he found it hard to believe Mr Reading could missed the balaclava-wearing armed robbers drive in and unload the stolen £53 million.

“Mr Reading was the best witness in the case,” he said.

He also asked the jury to consider the mileage of the white lorry used in the robbery, and hired by Fowler. He said the lorry was driven for 233 miles after it left the hire company until it was returned.

Mr Cameron told the court he had calculated the mileage of journeys the prosecution say the lorry made, which came to up to 108 miles less than what had been recorded.

He ridiculed the idea that the lorry could have been driven randomly around, and said this fact was “another indicator that Elderden Farm is not where the 'flop’ was divided or the holding place”.

Mr Cameron asked the jury not to hold Fowler’s decision not to give evidence, against him, saying: “The trial process permits a defendant not to give evidence, in the same way the investigation process permits a defendant not to answer questions.

The case continues.

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