Former Leeds marine said he stole from UAE embassy for ‘national security’ reasons, court told

A former Royal Marine from Leeds claimed that he stole confidential documents from safes within the UAE London embassy for “national security” reasons, a court has heard.

By PA reporter
Friday, 10th June 2022, 4:45 am
Updated Friday, 10th June 2022, 7:33 pm

Ex-soldier Lee Hurford, 49, and Dean Manister, 51, were spared jail over the thefts in September 2018, after prosecutors dropped allegations of a £3m blackmail plot.

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Manister had worked as the embassy’s head of security since 2015, while Hurford was a close protection officer for the ambassador, Southwark Crown Court heard.

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Former marine Lee Hurford and Dean Manister were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court. Picture: Google

The security chief had installed new safes shortly before his resignation on August 31 2018, following a misconduct probe, and he arranged for Hurford to work the night security shift on September 14.

Hurford was the only person in the building, which was closed for Islamic New Year, when he raided two safes, belonging to Abdul Mohamed and Keith Childs, and entered the ambassador’s office, where nothing was taken.

He arrived carrying a hefty suit carrier and black trench coat before stealing about £60,000 in cash, receipts and financial documents belonging to the embassy, a security card and passports.

Some of the money was in envelopes marked “August VIP suite money”, while one envelope containing paperwork was marked “HH Sheikh Mohammed Al Sharqi”.

Manister’s car was captured on automatic numberplate recognition cameras close to the embassy, in Belgravia, central London, on the night of the alleged burglary.

“The defendants’ inside knowledge of the embassy and its workings is a crucial contextual element of this case,” said prosecutor Tyrone Silcott.

“At least one of them still maintains these thefts are somehow justified by some form of national security.

“We ask your honour to sentence the defendants on the basis this was purely a theft of greed where money was targeted for financial gain.

“We do not proceed with the blackmail issue but these documents that were stolen were for any other reason than gain or leverage for personal gain.”

Robert Smith, mitigating Hurford, said there was a reference in his client’s pre-sentence report to national security, but told the judge he accepted the prosecution’s case, adding: “He does express remorse.”

Hurford, of Leeds, pleaded guilty to two counts of theft and attempted theft, while Manister, of Colchester, Essex, admitted two counts of aiding and abetting theft and one count of aiding and abetting attempted theft, at an earlier hearing.

Judge Martin Griffith sentenced Hurford to 21 months imprisonment and Manister to two years imprisonment, with both prison terms suspended for two years. He told the men they must carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.

“These were all offences of dishonesty. I make no attempt to assess why they were carried out. There were large amounts of cash in the safes,” he said.

“Mr Manister, I consider you to be the more responsible in this. You made it possible for Mr Hurford to be in the rooms and had provided him with keys to the safes, enabling him to bypass the security codes that the day-to-day users expected to protect them.”

Southwark Crown Court heard both men are likely to face suspension of their Security Industry Authority licences.

On what was to be the first day of their trial in April, prosecutors brought no evidence for a charge of burglary faced by Hurford, as well as charges of handling stolen goods and aiding and abetting burglary faced by Manister, for which not guilty pleas were recorded. A charge of blackmail was left to lie on file.

Mr Silcott said: “As a result of these thefts, a significant amount of confidential documents were stolen.

“They were and are embassy property and subject to diplomatic provisions of the Vienna Convention.

“Given their responsibilities within the organisation, they must have known this and must have known the sensitivity of the material.

“Downloads of their mobile phones show that they contain highly sensitive material relating to counter-terrorism and or politics, being photographs of confidential embassy documents also believed to be subject to diplomatic immunity provided under the Vienna Convention and contact details including those of diplomats.”