Leeds gem store raid ‘was not staged’
THE president of Berry’s jewellers told a Leeds Crown Court jury a gunpoint robbery at the company’s store in Albion Street was not staged for insurance purposes.
Jeffrey Walton said the company was worth millions of pounds and said the suggestion was “ridiculous.”
Mr Walton was working at Berry’s in Albion Street when three men, one armed with a gun, raided the store just after 3pm on March 24 and stole dozens of high value watches, including Cartier, Patek and IWC watches, worth almost £1m.
Mr Walton said he had been involved with Berry’s for around 49 years and that there had been around four previous armed robberies.
A total of 64 watches worth £485,505 were recovered, but 80 watches worth more than £455,000 are still outstanding.
Four men are standing trial after being charged with conspiring to rob Berry’s on March 24 and Watches of Switzerland on Oxford Street, London, on February 25 this year.
Estonian nationals Raigo Malm, 39, Alar Kajurand, 26, Rainis Kilk, 26, and Tamair Uibopuu, 30, all deny conspiracy to rob.
After giving witness evidence, Mr Walton was cross examined by Kajurand’s lawyer David Dixon.
Mr Dixon said: “This was a staged robbery for insurance purposes.”
Mr Walton replied: “Why would it be a staged robbery when the company is valued at (millions of pounds).”
Mr Dixon asked: “That’s a no then?” Mr Walton replied “Certainly, that’s ridiculous.”
Prosecutor Timothy Capstick has previously told the jury that Kajurand was caught on CCTV wearing a wig and a hat as he approached the locked security door at Berry’s.
The jury was told Kajurand produced a gun once he was allowed inside by the security guard.
Mr Capstick has said Kilk and Uibopuu then entered the store armed with hammers before taking watches.
Mr Capstick asked witness Mr Walton: “The first gentleman you described coming in you said had a hat and you thought a wig. Did that cause you any undue concern?”
Mr Walton replied: “Some people do come in with hats. People come in with dark glasses. We ask them to take them off. Plenty of people come in with weird hairstyles and they are the big spenders.”
Mr Walton told the jury what happened after the man the prosecution claim was Kajurand produced a gun from a shoulder bag he had been carrying.
He said: “He pulled out a gun. I was maybe five or six feet from him. The doorman went to his knees, he was probably trained to do that.
“The two girls behind me were crying. All my staff had been with me for so long. I stood in front of the man with the gun with my hands in the air.”
The jury was told watches were taken from three display cases, which were not locked.
Kajurand’s lawyer David Dixon asked Mr Walton: “I will ask you outright, was this a staged robbery?”
Mr Walton replied: “No way. Can I just say that if you look into our company, our business was established in 1897. We are in the top 100 in the world for jewellers. Our asset value is very high. We own a lot of property, especially in Leeds.”
The jury was shown CCTV footage of Mr Walton walking around the shop floor before the robbery.
Mr Dixon asked him: “If I were to suggest that you were walking around because you were expecting something to happen, what would you say to that?”
Mr Walton replied: “I would say it’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.”
Mr Capstick asked Mr Walton what he would say if it was suggested that “somehow you had told members of staff to make sure displays or cabinets were open to assist the robbers.”
Mr Walton replied: “That is the most horrific thing that anybody has said to me in my life.”
Mr Capstick asked: “Did the company, the business, lose or gain financially, as a result of this robbery?”
Mr Walton replied: “We lost £50,000, that’s what we lost.”
Mr Capstick asked: “As far as previous robberies (at Berry’s), how many have there been?”
Mr Walton replied: “About four.”
New witness, security guard Ertie Nioca told the court he was working at Berry’s on Albion Street on March 24.
Mr Nioca said he signalled to the man the prosecution claim was Kajurand to remove his hat before unlocking the door to allow him in the shop.
Mr Capstick asked Mr Nioca: “Did you notice anything else unusual about him?”
Mr Nioca replied: “Not at that moment. As he got closer I noticed the hair was looking a bit unusual. I opened the door and as he got closer, that’s when I noticed it was a wig he was wearing.
“He came in like he was drunk and a little bit wobbly. Before I could close the door behind me, a second man came behind him.”
Mr Capstick asked: “The two have come in, you say Mr Walton was asking you to close the door. The first man with the wig as saying something?”
Mr Nioca said: “He was telling me to open the door.”
Mr Capstick: “At the point he was saying that, did he do anything else?”
Mr Nioca replied; “That’s when he reached for the rucksack, the bag he had. That’s when he He pulled out a gun and pointed it at me.
“From that point I just went down on my knees and opened the door and that’s when a third gentleman came in.”
Mr Nioca said the third man placed a towel over the top of the door so it was not possible to close it.
Mr Nioca said the man in the wig continued to point a gun at him, asking “Where’s the money, where’s the money?”
Mr Nioca said: “I didn’t reply. There was so many things going through my mind. I just completely froze.”
Mr Capstick asked: “During this, how were you feeling?”
Mr Nioca said: “I was feeling frightened. In didn’t even know what was going to happen to me. I had flashbacks of my life because he had a gun pointed at me.
“I was just thinking ‘is this how it is going to end?’”
The jury say CCTV footage of members of the public detaining Uibopuu on Albion Street.
A hammer was recovered from a bag, along with 64 watches that had a combined value of just under £0.5m.
The jury was told Kajurand and Kilk caught a train to Manchester from Leeds rail station.
The jury has heard the robbery at Watches of Switzerland on Oxford Street, London, took place just after 6pm on Wednesday February 25.
The jury was shown still images from CCTV footage and were told one of the images showed two robbers in the doorway of the premises.
Mr Capstick said one image shows Kajurand carrying what appears to be a handgun in his right hand.
The court heard six Cartier watches worth just under £30,000 were stolen in that robbery.
The jury was told a security guard at Watches of Switzerland managed to grab one of the robbers and there was a struggle during which the robber dropped a bag.
Mr Capstick said: “It came to an end when the other robber, the man we suggest was Kajurand armed with the handgun, returned to the store and threatened (the security guard). The two robbers then made their escape.”
The jury was told the bag dropped at the scene contained a seventh Cartier watch, worth £4,300, along with an empty Tropicana plastic drinks bottle.
Mr Capstick said DNA evidence was found on the bottle which linked Kilk to it.
Mr Capstick said CCTV evidence from the London raid featured Kajurand wearing distinctive training shoes, which the prosecution say are the same pair found in his possession when he was arrested in Manchester on March 25, the day after the robbery in Leeds.
The jury was told that in the days leading up to the robbery in Leeds, all four defendants were staying at the Britannia Hotel in Manchester.
Mr Capstick said Kajurand and Malm travelled to Liverpool on March 22 to buy a BB gun or air pistol from a shop in the Anfield area for £50.
The jury was shown a photograph of a till receipt for the gun after the receipt had been recovered from the hotel room in Manchester.
Mr Capstick said police have produced a disc of CCTV footage from various sources showing the movements of Kajurand, Kilk and Uibopuu in Leeds on March 24.
He said CCTV footage shows Kajurand going into the toilets at Leeds rail station before coming out of the toilets wearing the wig he wore during the robbery.
Mr Capstick said that after the robbery, Kajurand and Kilk ran down Albion Street and caught a train back to Manchester from Leeds rail station.
The jury was told the two men disposed of a bag containing the gun and wig in industrial bins in a side street in Manchester, which was later recovered by police.
Mr Capstick said Kajurand can be linked to the wig by DNA and to the gun by a fingerprint found on the grip of the weapon.
Police arrested Kajurand and Kilk at the Brittania Hotel in Manchester in the early hours the morning after the robbery in Leeds.
Mr Capstick said the outstanding watches were not recovered.
Mr Capstick said Malm was not present at either of the robberies, but was involved in planning both raids.
He told the jury that while Uibopuu was involved in the armed robbery in Leeds, there is no evidence to suggest he was involved in the armed robbery in London.