Cop's journey back in time to build case that would convict a 1986 robber
CHARGED with investigating an unsolved violent robbery committed over a quarter of a century ago, Detective Constable Mike Stott had scant evidence in front of him.
After delving into police records, he discovered a file containing just a short case summary of 10 lines of A4, plus a couple of matching fingerprints.
But, with the help of Derby Telegraph cuttings, and a high-tech national police fingerprints database, Det Con Stott managed to gather a large bundle of evidence to hand to prosecutors.
And, yesterday, Barrie Rhodes was convicted of being one of the armed robbers who raided Jeanian Jewellers, in Derby, on July 10, 1986.
Det Con Stott said: "It's great how the investigation came together. The case was helped a lot by me accessing the Derby Telegraph archives."
Retired Rhodes, 65, was arrested in November 2011 after his fingerprints, which had been uploaded to a national database, were found to match those from the jewellery raid.
Rhodes, of Monument Lane, Ironville, initially denied having anything to do with the attempted robbery.
Det Con Stott came to the paper for help after exhausting all avenues to discover details of the original police investigation.
He said: "The general consensus was it was 26 years ago and so the file would no longer be around.
"I had no file, no original statements of victims and no witness details. All I had was 10 lines of A4 from a briefing log in 1986 – but cops are very good at summarising offences.
"That's when I went to the Derby Telegraph and was provided with the articles and that was when I was able to trace Ian Hardy, the owner of the jewellers."
The articles also named witnesses and included a photograph of a briefcase left behind by one of the robbers, as well as some of the contents – live cartridges and a walkie- talkie.
Mr Hardy's parents, Alan and Irene, were looking after the shop at the time of the raid.
The couple told the Derby Telegraph on the day of the robbery that one of the men had held a gun to Mrs Hardy's head and told her to lie on the floor, before pointing the weapon at her husband.
They were told they would be shot if they pressed the alarm but Mr Hardy told the paper he had "got a bit excited" and set it off.
The two men had then fled.
After reading the articles, Det Con Stott went to visit Ian Hardy. Mr Hardy's father had since passed away and his mother's memory was in a fragile state.
Det Con said: "This offence had a massive impact on his parents. They were very traumatised by it."
The Hardy family had kept a recording of the BBC news programme in which the couple were featured talking about their experience.
From this footage Det Con Stott was able to identify the investigating officers at the time and managed to track them down.
In the last quarter of a century, two have since died, one could not clearly remember the incident but retired Detective Chief Inspector John Smedley was a godsend.
He had been the Detective Sergeant on the case and remembered the job clearly, and revealed to Det Con Stott a crucial piece of evidence.
He said fingerprints had been recovered from about three jewellery boxes that had been disturbed during the raid. A print was also found on a piece of paper salvaged from the scene.
On the piece of paper was a list of items, including a rope, keys, walkie-talkies, brief case and gloves, and it was clearly in preparation for the robbery.
A photograph of this piece of paper was one of the minimal pieces of evidence that had survived the years and was handed to Det Con Stott at the start of the investigation. But he had no clue to where the piece of paper had been found.
Mr Smedley confirmed it had been in the briefcase, showing that it had obviously belonged to one of the robbers.
At the time, none of the fingerprints were a match for anyone known to the police.
Years later, the prints were uploaded to the national police database – and it was when Rhodes was arrested for another matter in 2010 that his fingerprints were matched with those from the jewellery raid.
When Rhodes was interviewed by police, he said an explanation for his fingerprints being on the jewellery boxes was that he had been involved in selling and buying in the business at the time.
In court he said he must have visited Jeanian Jewellers on one occasion but could not recall going there. He said he would have visited the wholesalers to assess the prices of the jewellery. Asked about the piece of paper, he said he had visited a lot of people's houses around that time to buy broken jewellery and to each person he would rip a piece out from his notepad to hand over as a receipt. He said that a lot of people would have had pieces of paper that he had touched.
So Det Con Stott got together a list of names of people involved in the sale of jewellery – a relatively close-knit business – in the 1980s and asked them whether they recognised the name Barrie Rhodes. Each one said they had never heard of him.
Det Con Stott said: "It's for a job like this why I joined the CID. This is a proper old-fashioned armed robbery. When it came in, I was interested straight away. I am really pleased it has developed to this point and if Alan Hardy was here, from speaking to the family, he would be overjoyed.
"You cannot have someone walk in a shop with a sawn-off shotgun and think we are going to give up because the crime's more than 25 years old. It's been an interesting and challenging job and, without the help of the Derby Telegraph and Ian Hardy, it wouldn't have got this far."