Friday, October 13, 2006

An Explanation

A good rule of thumb with blog posts is that the more frequently the word "I" appears, the worse the post is. On that basis, it might be best to click away now. This post is about my reasons for dropping out of sight after the rally for free expression last March, so the use of the first person is hard to avoid. Even so, I reckon that if I'm going to tell the story I might as well tell the whole story. So interminable length provides even more reason to turn to the TV listings.

I have been featured in the media twice before. The first time, in 1983/4, was when I broke the Opticians' Monopoly, as a consequence of which you can now buy reading glasses without prescription, for a reasonable price, in a chemist's shop. I'm very proud of that, and anyone interested could dig out more details of what Kenneth Clarke in the House of Commons called "The Risdon Affair" (Hansard, 1983, November I think, not online) if they care to. This post is not about that episode. I'd be happy to blog about it some other time, but it isn't a problem.

The other occasion is, and in March I took a chance with it. Strangely enough, the internet age has made the preceding period in some ways more opaque. Whereas in 1989 a journalist would have gone to the cuttings library and discovered all sorts of interesting things, today they google and some events prior to 1990, give or take a year, are hidden to them.

A rather difficult personal issue in 1985/6 saw me disappear into the underbelly of Glasgow, emerge driving a minicab at night in Peckham, S.E. London, then reappear, with a surprising number of extremely colourful acquaintances, working for a spy equipment shop in Mayfair. I left and set up my own "security" business in the Borough, just south of London Bridge, in partnership with an ex-armed robber called Tom.

You can probably picture the next couple of years: bug sweeps, body armour, unofficial meetings with the Foreign Office, ex-SAS soldiers, hidden video cameras... and there were less predictable things, not least a 325 carat rough diamond spirited from South Africa to London for me to sell, and get arrested while trying to get it out of a bank's safekeeping impersonating the depositor, with a fake passport and a faxed sheet of his signatures in my pocket (I was charged over this but the case was thrown out by the judge at half-time, no case to answer, the owner had asked me to get it to show to a buyer from one of London's biggest auction houses because he couldn't get back to the UK in time).

I rather liked the excitement, the boozy meetings with Gulf Arabs in Park Lane, the cleaning lady who found a bug when it dropped off the bottom of a chair in the boardroom of one of the UK's biggest companies, the security director of another FTSE100 company who discovered a plant was bugged when his car FM radio started broadcasting a meeting as he looked for a parking space...

One week, a couple of years later, I went on holiday to Morocco for a week, on the outbound leg stopping off at the Heathrow Hilton for a two hour meeting with Robert De Niro, who was researching his character for a forthcoming film, then on my return driving straight from the airport to CIB2's headquarters in Vauxhall to be interviewed about a police officer I had gently persuaded to drop his attempt to get a £40,000 bribe from someone. A mutual friend had asked me to help "straighten out" the problem, I had done so quietly but a third party had told the police.

The film De Niro was researching is called The Score and, it might just be coincidence, if you know what it's about, but the main theme of my contribution was, don't get involved in other people's plans. I had done exactly that, to my cost.

One of my customers at the security company was called Darius Guppy who, because he had been Earl Spencer's best man (then he was called Charles Althorpe), and because Spencer's sister was Princess Diana - and because there was a sense that Guppy might not be entirely wholesome - was in the eye of the press. Guppy had latched on to me, and was quite funny in his way. He wanted to keep a low profile, so when he telephoned my office, he'd say his name was Harry. Whoever answered the phone would put him on hold, then buzz me and say "Guppy's on the line". Then Tom would pretend to be a fish, trying to make me laugh as I spoke to him. I had found a manufacturer who would make false-bottomed flight cases when Guppy asked - after an abortive attempt to make them myself (I'm not a craftsman). He had told me he was trying to move some of his "wealth" out of the country to avoid capital gains tax. Whatever. I wasn't troubled by his motives. I had taken my morality off the hook: engaged tone, please try again later.

Then he came to me with another tax problem. I already knew he liked to travel to places like India and Colombia with a suitcase of cash, buying gemstones for his public company, Inca Gemstones Plc. He told me he had hired a consultant in Colombia and paid them in gems. This might have been a tax offence in Colombia but wasn't an issue anywhere else. However, it had been off the books, had left him with a shortfall of stock, and there was an audit due...

So he had a plan. A cunning plan.

He would be robbed, in New York where a small robbery would pass almost unnoticed. This was pre-Giuliani and there was a lot of crime in Gotham City. And we were only talking about thousands. Nada.

So I agreed. For £10,000 I flew to N.Y., went down to Philadelphia where I had a connection, bought a gun, drove back to N.Y., went to Guppy's hotel room, tied up him and his partner, Benedict Marsh, fired a shot into the bed to make it look real, and left. I drove upstate and threw the gun into a lake, then flew back a day later... To be met by my girlfriend, who was holding a press cutting. There had been a £1.2 million pound robbery in New York...

Exaggeration, said Guppy. You know the press. It'll all blow over. But there was a potential problem. I might have been seen. It would be best if I shaved off my moustache (my guilty secret... I had a moustache...). I declined, though now I realise he was talking sense. But in fact, as it turned out, this wasn't just fashion advice.

I grew increasingly suspicious of Guppy in the following months. I didn't buy this exaggeration line, though it did seem that it had all blown over. Then people started coming to me, telling me that Guppy was trying to isolate me, turn people against me. So I put him under surveillance. I bugged his house and his phone.

We hadn't completely fallen out yet, and he was arrogant enough to think I wouldn't be proactive about things, so since he had become slightly paranoid, he asked me to sweep his house for bugs. Unfortunately, my team didn't find anything.

But I did find a lot in my tapes of his conversations. His gold smuggling had gone wrong, and three shipments had been found by the Indian customs. The robbery in N.Y. had actually been an insurance scam, and he had sold some of his allegedly stolen stock back to the dealer who had sold it to him in the first place. The dealer had become suspicious and told the police. The eagles were circling...

Luckily, for him, he had a fallback plan. He had given the N.Y. police my description, from which they had produced an artist's impression of me - without a moustache. That was why he had asked me to shave. His plan was to say he had really been robbed by a slight acquaintance to whom he had mentioned the N.Y trip but who he didn't know well enough to recognise without his moustache. Yes, his fallback plan was to frame me for robbing him, to disappear to another country while I was arrested and convicted, then reappear a few years later when there had already been a conviction and the appetite to investigate him would meet with budgetary obstacles.

That was a difficult situation. I decided on maximum retaliation. Not only did I go to the police and tell them what had happened, I also sold the News Of The World one of the tapes I had made, on which Guppy could be heard discussing a plan to beat up a Screws journalist. The tape, which subsequently was serialised by the Guardian Diary and splashed by The Daily Mail, included conversations between Guppy and the prospective assailants, and also with a journalist Guppy knew at Oxford, who had a line on the home address of the target. The journalist was called Boris Johnson.

Johnson has taken enough stick for this, by the way, not least on Have I Got News For You. If I had known what he would become, I'd never have released the tape. I regret doing so, regret the problem it caused him and assert that it's water under the bridge and one of our few decent and honest politicians should be untroubled by this episode.

Anyway, it all made the papers in a massive way. I spent three days in the witness box, some 60 additional prosecution witnesses came forward, and Guppy was convicted. And I was roasted. I was a grass. I had given evidence to save my skin from the earlier false passport charge that had been thrown out without my even having to enter a defense. It was a horrible time, though I felt that I had not played a role that was exactly glorious so I slunk away, and didn't sue for libel, not when his "contemptible book" (Lyn Barber, the Observer) was published, and not when they made two TV movies about the affair, all of which took Guppy's line at face value. To be clear, the line of a self-confessed purjerer who was trying to position himself as well as possible for his next crime (he was busted by the Sunday Mirror as soon as he was released from prison, when he met a well known "face" in Chelsea, planning a video counterfeiting scam). Of course he couldn't admit he had deceived me, then tried to frame me. Who would work with him then?

So.

So what.

The press weren't interested in what actually happened, they were interested in a story. And the story wasn't me, so who gives a shit?

This was nearly twenty years ago. 1989, to be exact. I knew it would muddy the waters for the free expression rally if it came out, but I decided partly to gamble on it not doing so, and partly just to do it anyway. Nobody else was. Let's be clear about this. I have a quiet life. Nobody knows about it. I am responsible for people's IT security, among other things. This coming out again now could lose me business, lose me my business, lose me my house... it could be a bloody mess.

And there's another thing. I'm ashamed of it. It was a disgraceful thing to do. I'd prefer to leave it in the past.

After the rally we talked about forming an organisation to campaign for free expression. A one-off rally is one thing, a movement is another. I couldn't possibly be involved without coming clean, and I wasn't sure I wanted to. Oddly enough, the death threats I received in the build up to the rally were neither here nor there, I expected them and I've been threatened, followed, approached, attempts have been made to intimidate me before; but this was an ogre, a dark cloud above me and when the rally finished, I was ill, for a couple of weeks.

And I went quiet. If I had said anything, I'd have given the game away. I wanted to keep the option of silence, of a quiet life. I actually resented the fact that I had to organise the rally in the first place. I give money to Amnesty International... I vote... there are people who should have been doing it instead of me... but they didn't. I felt I was the last person who should have been organising the rally, and I felt that was exactly the position I found myself in.

So there we are.

I completely understand if people who have been supportive before now feel they want to withdraw that support.

But I also feel that there is a lot to do. I want to do some of it.

And I also have a cunning plan...

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow...

That took real guts.

Peter - I'll call you on Monday.

Nick B.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm this must have been a difficult few months for you Peter.

Anonymous said...

It's extremely brave of you to disclose all this.

What a fascinating and incredible account.

Best wishes to you.

Anonymous said...

It will be hard for people to blackmail you now the truth is out in the open.

I think most people who believe in the freedom of expression movement will back you up all the way.


Derius

Anonymous said...

You've got guts. What an amazing story.

Aeneas said...

Peter, please remember that by organising the free expression rally you have helped to bring people and ideas together that would otherwise have never met, which I believe to be a very good thing. You have already achieved a great deal for this noble cause.

You may not be aware that there is now a globally orientated group called ‘The 910 Group”, which may have a certain degree of overlap with the free expression movement here in the UK. I think that this group may ultimately help protect and champion western values, freedoms and culture. I think that a good British input to this umbrella group would be advantageous.

The 910 group now has a blog that can be found via the following URL:
http://the910group.blogspot.com/

Peter Risdon said...

Thanks very much for the kind words. Yes, it has been a bit difficult, but I'm glad I have finally brought myself to fess up.

I have a project almost ready for launch. I'm moving some servers into a data centre next week and will be asking people who are interested in helping to help with the initial set up, by issuing password-protected access.

My email is prisdon@gmail.com and anyone interested is welcome to get in touch. Encouraged to, in fact.

Anonymous said...

Peter count me in. Please see your email

Anonymous said...

Great to hear from you Peter, and blimey what an eventful few years. think anything you do with the free expression movement will be very worthwhile. Hopeful this would get back on track as it was definitely THE definitive free speech movement and should be the movement to lead the way globally. will email you.

Anonymous said...

What an absolutely amazing story, yes and good luck. I will check into this 910 group

Anonymous said...

Peter, if you hadn't have organised it, we'd still all be sitting around moaning in splendid isolation. Some people chose that option by not coming along on the 25 March but those of us who did show up wanted to do more than just sit at our PCs.

I now understand why you went quiet but it's great to have you back again.

I'm even more impressed that you want to devote time to the cause of free speech, when you could just cash in and write your life up as a best-selling novel!

Anonymous said...

Do leopards change their spots?

You've been a well dodgy geezer. How can we trust you in the future? Won't you take the pay of the first man with a brown bag that comes along, and sell us out like you've done to others before?

Peter Risdon said...

It's your call, anonymous: that was the point of posting this here.

Just for the record, everything I wrote can be verified from the public record. I have never sold anyone out.

James G. said...

Peter,
Loads of respect!

Would I be right in assuming that the way you handled your MfFE detractors from the Religion of Peace(tm) was coloured by your anxiety over your past coming to light?

I would be interested in contributing my time to the movement, when I can. (Unfortunately it is limited.)

Peter Risdon said...

James, I was glad it didn't come out during the build up to the rally - I had decided at the time that if it did I'd resign immediately.

I'll drop you an email.

Peter Risdon said...

That was one of two films, Rastaman - I mentioned them in my post:

"not when they made two TV movies about the affair, all of which took Guppy's line at face value. To be clear, the line of a self-confessed purjerer who was trying to position himself as well as possible for his next crime (he was busted by the Sunday Mirror as soon as he was released from prison, when he met a well known "face" in Chelsea, planning a video counterfeiting scam). Of course he couldn't admit he had deceived me, then tried to frame me. Who would work with him then?"

As I have said, the fiction was Guppy's book, and these two films. My story can be verified from the court transcripts.

Peter Risdon said...

I think I misunderstood what Rastaman was saying. He thinks I was an actor in a play called The Prince. In fact, I was a character in the made-for-TV film, played by an actor called Steven Rimkus, apparently. I never watched it, on the grounds that it would annoy me and I wasn't going to do anything about that for reasons explained in my main post. I did meet the writer and producer for lunch when they were preparing for it. Fat lot of good that did, predictably enough.

I'm a bit touchy, because I know there'll be people who buy Guppy's version of events. Maybe I should put some mp3s of him in conversation online, so people can judge for themselves how credible a person he is.

Some of them are very funny. The Guardian Diary, under Mathew Norman, serialised them for about three months. Sample dialogue: "I am the biggest potential psychopath I know. Potential, because I have willpower." "These men are like dogs. They love their Master" - this about two South London villains he was trying to hire for something. I happened to know these villains, in fact I had introduced them to him. They were planning to take a 50% deposit for the "bit of work", then stall and make excuses until he went away. I have some of this negotiation on tape, and glorious stuff it is too: "The other chap's a bit itchy, he can't wait to get going. Half up front might calm him down", and so on.

But, ultimately, some people will buy his line. I made this post so people could make up their own minds, and because it would have been completely wrong of me to carry on without having divulged it, even if I do find some of the consequences a bit difficult.

So I just have to put up with it.

Peter Risdon said...

I'm here to stay, Rastaman. This was the only problem.

Peter Risdon said...

Sock Puppet Watch

I've seen this character before. Last time, making exactly the same claims, from a South African ip address. By coincidence, Guppy now lives in S Africa.

This time, the ip address is in Brussels, where Guppy has business.

Who'd a thought it?

Needless to say, I stand completely by my story, which is all verifiable from the public record. No Queen's evidence, no deals. As one of the policemen who arrested Guppy (who they nicknamed "Delerious") put it, "Guppy picked a fight, and lost".

Peter Risdon said...

Well, I am flattered. First Guppy pretending to be a person who attended the trial, and now Benedict Marsh looking in from Denver.

Hi, guys.

Peter Risdon said...

At 19:29 on the 28th October, Guppy came back to the site from the same Brussels ip address he used to post as "freedomfighter" above, saw my postings above, and retired hurt.

I expect he's pacing, but the exercise will do him good. Anyway, let's see what he thinks up next. Let me guess:

1. Learning about anonymous proxies

2. Giving someone else the wording of a message he wants to post here

3. Setting up his own site to put his case

4. Hiring some heavies to do me in

Not on that list is understanding that this is in fact in the past, and getting on with his own life.

What's it to be, Darry?

Peter Risdon said...

Er... the commentators above are well known voices and bloggers. Many know each other. When you're in a hole, Darius, the best thing is to stop digging.

We have both said our piece here now, and it's getting repetitive. I am, though, going to post the transcripts and recordings I referred to online, and since you are being so persistent I will take it all a step further, as I should have done years ago.

You'll be hearing from me offline.

Peter Risdon said...

In case anyone is interested in this squabble, one of the arresting police officers has now retired and is therefore able to make public statements. His signed and sworn statement corroborating my version of these events will be posted here in about ten days' time (around the 10th November).

Peter Risdon said...

You do realise that hardly anybody is reading this now, don't you Darius? The web moves on and the real rush of readers came at the start, before you googled yourself and found it that day.

I was interested to see something in the logs here the following day that suggested the news you pumped to the press via that freelancer in S Africa, of your fall out with Spencer, might have been... how shall I put it? Exaggerated. If that's so, whatever your reasons might have been, that particular story is blown now, I'm afraid.

Once upon a time, even though you were incompetent, you were at least slightly clever. You wouldn't have kept referring, however speciously, to documents from the prosecution's disclosure during your trial, and that were sent by you in your own name to Ian Hislop at Private Eye. They constitute a sort of signature, you realise? They identify you absolutely and positively.

You're in a bit of a bind now, and I understand that. Your comments are coming at longer and longer intervals (what was it this time? Five days? Six?), as it takes you longer to think up your next doomed tactic. But if you don't post another comment, you are admitting your sock-puppety nature, and making a complete fool of yourself, again, in public.

Yet every time you do post a comment, you tell me more about your movements, and let slip little nuggets that amuse, delight and inform - in every case in ways you did not intend.

It's a problem.

To any non-piscene readers that might still drift up, obtaining the transcripts referred to will take a couple of weeks, but I'll be making pdfs available asap. The policeman's statement might be early. Then there will a be a little bit of overdue offline setting straight of records.

Peter Risdon said...

I received an email today from a former police officer. Some highlights from the attached document:

"I was a police officer between 18th August 1975 and 17th August 2006 serving for 30 years. During this period I served with the South East Regional Crime Squad between 1985 and 1992. During my period with the Regional Crime Squad, I was a member of the squad that arrested Peter Risdon in connection with a rough diamond that had been brought to London from South Africa. I was also a part of Operation Athene, the name for the investigation that led to the arrests of Darius Guppy and others for insurance fraud. I am, therefore, aware of the important features of both cases.
[...]
[In respect of Risdon's case] I am aware that two of my colleagues travelled to South Africa and conducted a series of interviews in which all possibilities were explored, as is usual. One of these possibilities was that an insurance fraud had been planned but no evidence to this effect was found and no charges of attempted fraud were laid against any person.
[...]
When he came to trial, after the prosecution case had been outlined, at "half time", the judge held Mr Risdon had no case to answer and instructed the jury to bring in a verdict of not guilty. Mr Risdon did not even have to enter a defense. Mr Guppy is very well aware of this, because his solicitors had an observer present throughout Mr Risdon's trial.
[...]
I understand that Mr Risdon came forward as he did to give evidence against Mr Guppy because he believed that Mr Guppy had deliberately framed him for carrying out an actual robbery in New York. Certainly, when Mr Risdon was flown to New York to help with the police enquiry into Mr Guppy, he was recognised at first sight by one of the New York detectives in the case purely because the detective, Ray Burke, had seen an artist's impression of one of the robbers that was given to the police by Mr Guppy in the immediate aftermath of the faked robbery and recognised the man in the picture as Mr Risdon.
[...]
Mr Risdon ... did not give evidence on the basis of any kind of deal and most particularly did not turn "Queen's Evidence" in the case."

The full document can be downloaded here.

Anonymous said...

Since I had nothing better to do this afternoon I downloaded that file and read it all through. Risdon's obviously been telling the truth from the start. I thought so anyway. I mean, who else apart from Guppy would give enough of a shit about this to keep posting here and if he can't be honest about who he is I don't think he's going to be honest about anything else either.

Peter Risdon said...

"bored said...

I mean, who else apart from Guppy would give enough of a shit about this"

You have a point.

Peter Risdon said...

Crikey.

Showing her this post, I said to my girlfriend that it's actually rather sad how far the once starred first Oxford graduate has fallen but she replied, "No, it's funny". I guess there is a comical element. You have seen the Lloyds' loss adjuster's report into the faked New York robbery have you, Mr I'm-Not-Guppy-Honestly?

Congrats on finding a less traceable way to post comments, though. Now you want one that doesn't escape all your single and double quotes.

In an earlier comment, you said I had turned Queens' Evidence, now you say I didn't and couldn't have. Get a grip, Delerious.

In your book you said I'd screwed the fake robbery up by using twine instead of duct tape and that's why the N.Y. police didn't buy it. Here you say they did. Get a grip, Delerious.

I will answer your questions:

1. I included this in my initial post:

"... and there were less predictable things, not least a 325 carat rough diamond spirited from South Africa to London for me to sell, and get arrested while trying to get it out of a bank's safekeeping impersonating the depositor, with a fake passport and a faxed sheet of his signatures in my pocket (I was charged over this but the case was thrown out by the judge at half-time, no case to answer, the owner had asked me to get it to show to a buyer from one of London's biggest auction houses because he couldn't get back to the UK in time)."

I have a feeling you might really be so utterly conceited that you genuinely think the thing I was involved in was an imitation of you. Of course, it doesn't hurt your position to try to claim it was more serious than it was.

Here's the policeman's take on it:

"I am aware that two of my colleagues travelled to South Africa and conducted a series of interviews in which all possibilities were explored, as is usual. One of these possibilities was that an insurance fraud had been planned but no evidence to this effect was found and no charges of attempted fraud were laid against any person."

2. See 1.

3. You're right. A proper explanation of the Opticians' monopoly affair would be a good thing. I'll get on it right away.

Since you're so excited about the informant bit, here's what the police officer says about it:

"Shortly after his arrest, Mr Risdon approached myself and my partner, saying he had a friend who had been involved in a serious crime and wished to approach the police, but was nervous of doing so. We then held a series of meetings with Mr Risdon, mainly in pubs, during which this was discussed. In order to meet Mr Risdon under these circumstances, we were obliged to register him as an informant and to log our contacts with him. Police officers are obliged to do this with anyone they arrange to meet if that person is or might be involved in a crime. This is an anti-corruption measure. Obviously, we suspected that Mr Risdon's "friend" might be Mr Risdon himself. No other implications should be read into the fact that Mr Risdon was a registered informant. I can confirm that the only arrests that were made on the basis of information supplied by Mr Risdon were those of Mr Guppy and his associates."

In other words, I was registered in order to give evidence about you, which I most certainly did. And I'm very glad of that.

The policeman made it clear what was hearsay and what was his own direct knowledge. Anyone who wants to can download his statement and read it in full (and a few have), so being misleading about it in these comments doesn't strengthen your case.

You said: "We know that you kept all this secret from your readers until it came out that you were the grass in the Guppy/Marsh trial." Really? When did it come out? I volunteered this, and emailed and telephoned people connected with the Freedom of Expression thingie, telling them there was something they needed to know. Hence the rash of comments at the start. And I used the word "grass":

"Anyway, it all made the papers in a massive way. I spent three days in the witness box, some 60 additional prosecution witnesses came forward, and Guppy was convicted. And I was roasted. I was a grass. I had given evidence to save my skin from the earlier false passport charge that had been thrown out without my even having to enter a defense."

You said: "We know that you have failed to post any of the information relevant to your past on your blog and that you are terrified it\'s going to get out."

No, Darius. You're the thing I was ashamed of. And I really am ashamed to have had dealings with you.

If I were actually worried about anything you said in a comment here, I could delete it. Instead, I prefer to let it all stand, as a monument to your vanity, stupidity and arrogance. And if you delete any of your comments, I'll simply reinstate them.

Peter Risdon said...

Just out of interest, Guppy's last post above has backslashes before the quotation marks because he took my advice (!) and used a proxy server, www.phproxy.org, and this uses backslashes to "escape" anything typed into a web form. PHProxy is written in PHP, a programming language that has a built-in function, addslashes(), specifically for doing this, as a security mechanism for handling html form submissions.

The proxy server was designed to disguise where he connected from. Can any reader of this imagine a legitimate reason why a genuine poster might try to disguise himself like that?

Peter Risdon said...

OK. Last comment on this, unless there are really exceptional circumstances. I said at the start that I has seen "freedomfighter" before. It was at Wikipedia, where in January 2006 a series of alterations to Guppy's entry were made.

Note the pattern of starting a numbering system, then starting a new numbering system again in the same entry, as seen in "freedomfighter"/Guppy's last comment above.

The first alteration was on January 8th, and over the next two days this was tweaked four times. One of the main things the contributor, who I'll call "Notguppy", was unsure about was the phrase: "I don't think his good looks helped him much either."

The ip address these posts came from was 198.54.202.18, and a quick whois lookup tells us this is in a net block managed by Telkom SA Limited in Pretoria, South Africa. Spookily enough, Guppy lives in South Africa.

Here's his entry:

"Educated at Etonand Magdalen College Oxford where he got a double first class degree in History, Guppy was convicted of masterminding a daring heist against London's Lloyd's insurance market to the tune of £1.8 million. He staged a jewellery robbery in New York and subsequently claimed for the insurance on the gemstones he said had been stolen. Betrayed a year later by a police informer who was caught attempting his own sting, he was sent to prison for five years. In addition, although implicated in a huge gold smuggling operation to India he was never caught or charged.

Although to save their own blushes the New York police who initially investigated the robbery attempted to gloss over their own failings the bottom line is:

1. Guppy pulled it off. Lloyds paid out in record timee and it seems highly improbable that they would have done so had either they or the police suspected anything untoward.

2. Both the trial Judge and Prosecution described the heist as an "audacious and meticulously planned operation."

3. No gemstones were ever recovered. I don't think his good looks helped him much either.

4. It took 4 years to convict Guppy and according to the police officer in New York who investigated the heist commenting on a documentary about the affair, this was only owing to the evidence of a petty criminal and police informer who had himself been caught up to no good.

5. In the parallel gold smuggling operation not a single shipment of gold was ever intercepted by the authorities.

As a freelance journalist who attended Guppy's trial in 1992 and 1993, the British press' reaction to the case seems to have been split. On the one hand there has been a tendency to glamourise his actions and on the other an attack which seems too obssesive and personal to pass as objective.

Although I was only able to speak to him briefly on a couple of occasions he struck me not as the ruthless individual described in certain sections of the press but as thoughtful and if anything rather shy.

I attribute the more vindictive press comment to a number of factors:

1. Guppy's contempt of the British press which he made too obvious at the trial and subsequently for his own good.

2. His refusal to go down the conspicuous remorse/I'm a celebrity - get me out of here route.

3. A sense that he got away with it.

Guppy is the grandson of an Iranian ayatollah and Iran's foremost philosopher on his mother's side. On his father's side he comes from a distinguished family of colonialists in the British West Indies. He is a close friend of Earl Spencer, and the Conservative MP Boris Johnson. Shortly after the robbery in New York, but before his arrest, Guppy was notoriously recorded telephoning Johnson and asking him for the address of a News of the World journalist who had reported on Earl Spencer's private life, and whom Guppy had wished to have assaulted in retaliation. On the tape, Johnson agreed to help after being reassured that the reporter would not be seriously injured. The tape transcript was serialised in the Guardian newspaper's diary column, which thereafter took to referring to Johnson as 'The Jackal'.

Although there are rumours that he has amassed a fortune and of ties to Irish Republicans and Islamic groups he remains low profile. Currently thought to be residing in South Africa and the Middle East. He is also known to be a martial arts and dangerous sports enthusiast."