On 20th June 2018 at Sheffield Crown Court, after a trial lasting eleven days, His Honour Judge Bartfield passed a lengthy extended sentence on Michael Dunphy, a career criminal from Manchester, who had played a leading role in the attempted robbery of a bank in South Yorkshire in November of last year.
The modus operandi employed has not been used in the area for over 20 years. It required the abduction of employees of the bank and taking them to the bank before it opened to the public; this with a view to accessing and stealing the contents of the safe, anticipated to be in the region some £500,000. In spite of the presence of the seven year old child of the first abductee, a factor which the Judge decided had not been anticipated, the would-be robbers persisted in their plan, taking the child along and into the bank premises.
The early action of the South Yorkshire Police ensured that the robbery was called off, resulting in the release of the four victims. Although only minor physical injuries were caused, the Judge assessed the psychological harm suffered by the victims as serious, coming to the view that the events of that day will be forever etched on the mind and souls of those involved.
The failed robbers made good their escape, driving a stolen Audi dangerously through the morning rush hour traffic before setting it on fire in a nearby car park used by parents taking their children to school. They fled in a waiting van. Mr. Dunphy was arrested back in Manchester within 48 hours. He lied to the police, saying he had no knowledge of the offences. By the time of his trial, he had changed that account to one of duress. As the Judge stated, the Jury had ‘completely rejected’ that defence.
Mr. Dunphy had last been released from prison on licence in October 2016. He had been serving a sentence of eleven years for conspiring to kidnap a drugs trafficker in Lancashire in 2009, and the subsequent manslaughter of that victim. Pursuant to his arrest for the South Yorkshire offences, he had been recalled to prison. HHJ Bartfield found him to be dangerous within the meaning of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, meaning that he considered there to be a significant risk to members of the public of serious harm occasioned by Mr. Dunphy committing further such offences. The sentence passed was eighteen years immediate imprisonment, with an extension period of five years. It is effective from 20th June. The import is that Mr. Dunphy will not even be considered for release within the next twelve years; if he is released then, the sentence will remain active for another eleven years.
Nicholas Campbell QC prosecuted the trial, which culminated on 19th June in unanimous verdicts of guilty on all six counts still before the Jury. He wishes to thank Caroine Tubb and Fiona Davies of the Crown Prosecution Service for their assistance throughout the case and to acknowledge the assistance he received from fellow members of chambers, in particular the wisdom of two dependable and experienced colleagues; Andrew Robertson QC in regard to the writing of the opening; and Rebecca Stevens in regard to the sentencing process.
Further details of the case follow:
Michael Dunphy was 44 when he was released from his last sentence. In early 2017, he and his girlfriend had moved into an expensive property in the Worsley area of Manchester. He had told the Jury that he felt the flat was him. When he was arrested there on 23rd November, the keys to two vehicles were recovered, and they were found to operate two high value vehicles parked nearby; an Audi A4 S line and a Mercedes C-class Cabriolet, both on 2017 plates. The couple’s expensive tastes were confirmed by other items found inside the home, not least a pristine pair of trainers made by Balenciaga which Mr. Dunphy admitted belonged to him; they retail at over £400.
Mr. Dunphy had come over the Pennines towards the beginning of the summer of 2017. From time to time, he would stay over in a comfortable cottage in the village of Braithwell, to the north of Maltby. When they had first met, he had told his elderly and self-confessed ‘nosy neighbour’ there that he was in the recycling business. He maintained that account when he gave evidence at his trial. When this was tested, he admitted that he paid no income tax. He claimed that the work was on a cash-only basis, but he failed to supply one iota of independent evidence to support his assertion of such work.
Whatever else he got up to during the day, Mr. Dunphy had kept himself fit, a fact that was appreciated by his neighbour in Braithwell when she would see him sunbathing. She was to become an important witness to events in the immediate aftermath of the aborted robbery.
The Judge found that Mr. Dunphy had come up with the plan to rob the branch in October 2017, and that he had played a ‘leading role’ in the robbery. The branch was chosen because of its situation within a few miles of Braithwell and easily accessible by road. It was well used, with a good deal of footfall. He had ‘carried out a significant amount of reconnaissance’, discovering the fact that the branch would hold the most money on any given Tuesday. Given the chosen method to be employed for the robbery, at least one of the cashiers was followed one evening as she made her way from the branch to her home.
On the morning set aside for the robbery, Tuesday 21st November 2017, Mr. Dunphy and two of his accomplices had followed their chosen victim as she set off for work. She was driving a Volvo. The robbers were using an Audi which had been stolen in the course of a dwelling house burglary in Lancashire the previous month and which now carried false plates. It was 8am. They followed their target to her first stop, across the road from the school attended by her teenage daughter. Having dropped her there, the target had set off again. It was then that some blue flashing lights that had been attached to the stolen Audi were illuminated and the car was driven towards her, causing her to stop.
The Judge found that it was Mr. Dunphy who, disguised in a wig and false beard and wearing a high visibility police jacket, approached the victim and persuaded her to get out of the Volvo and accompany him to the Audi. Reluctantly, and asking what she had done wrong?, she did as she was told. She only resisted when she looked inside the Audi and saw two other men, each wearing bandanas across the lower part of their faces. Mr. Dunphy lifted her off her feet and threw her into the back. It was 8.05am.
In the meanwhile, the victim’s seven year old child had got out of the family car and was screaming. Now on the far side of the road, the teenager turned and looked to see her mother being bundled into the Audi and her sibling being escorted by Mr. Dunphy into the same car, which then drove off. She had seen him return to her family’s Volvo, start the engine and set off in the wake of the Audi. She ran into the school and raised the alarm. She was to tell her mother some time later that she thought she would never see either her or her sibling alive again.
The Judge found that the kidnapping of the seven year old had not been a part of the plan ab initio, but found it to be one of many aggravating features that the discovery of her presence had not caused the robbers to abandon their plans.
The two vehicles were driven in convoy to a quiet cul-de-sac where the Volvo was parked and Mr. Dunphy re-joined his two accomplices and their captives in the Audi. The five then set off for the bank. The employee, who was doing her best to calm her seven year old, was pumped for information. Given the training that she and her colleagues had received, she complied. She said that, although she could access the bank, the lock on the safe required not only her unique code but also that of a colleague. She was asked: “What car does she drive?”. She replied: “She comes by bus”.
The Audi was parked on a side street with a view of the relevant bus stop. When the right bus finally arrived, the second employee was seen to alight and make her way on foot towards the bank. The Audi drew to a stop alongside her and the back door was opened. She saw her colleague, with her child sitting on her knee. She then saw the three men, all masked. Mr. Dunphy told her to get into the car, or she would be shot. She complied. During the ensuing minutes that the three victims were together in the car with the three would-be robbers, the criminals were speaking on a walkie-talkie to an accomplice outside the car, who clearly also had eyes on the bank.
The car repositioned itself at the side of the branch while the two women were given their instructions. The first victim asked that her child might accompany her into the bank and the request was granted. Prior to getting out of the Audi, Mr. Dunphy removed his mask, although his wig and beard remained in place. He then walked the two women and the child towards the bank. It was at this stage that the bank’s area manager intervened. She was visiting the branch for a spot check that morning and had been concerned that neither of the employees had yet arrived for work. She spotted them in the company of what she took to be a police officer; they tried to warn her away by mouthing words towards her, but she failed to understand. Thinking that someone must have died, she asked them “What’s wrong?”. For her trouble, Mr. Dunphy told her that the bank was being robbed and that she had to get in the car. Â The driver had got out to ensure that she complied. There she remained with the two accomplices until the robbery was called off.
In the meanwhile, the bank had been opened, the alarm deactivated and Mr. Dunphy had been taken into the back of the premises where the safe was to be found. It was 8.30am. The two employees entered their respective codes. The security system on the safe then began a countdown which was to last ten minutes before it opened. While they waited, the first victim was questioned about the contents of a second safe and the bank’s ATM. In spite of his aggression and her fear, she did her best to distract Mr. Dunphy who then demanded some bags in which, she assumed, he wished to place the money from the safe. She noted that he had not brought a bag with him. All this while, the second victim had been comforting the seven year old, who had been well protected from the reality of what was happening by the mother and by ‘Mummys friend’. Once inside that backroom, the child had been more upset by the presence of a spider than by the actual robbery.
It was at this time that the police, alerted by the teenage daughter, telephoned her mother on her mobile. The number came up ‘unknown’. Mr. Dunphy ordered her to answer it. It swiftly became clear who was calling, and the effect was immediate. He ordered his first victim to let him out of the bank. As he made his way swiftly towards the door, his bandana now back across his face, he alerted the others by walkie-talkie that the job was off. As she led him through the bank, his first victim asked that they release her manager.
Mr. Dunphy was quickly back in the car where he ordered the release of the manager. She watched as the car sped away, and memorised the registration plate. By the time she made it into the bank, her colleague was still speaking to the police and she was able to provide those details. The recording of that call was compelling, as the Jury heard her initial strained, managed responses, followed by the dramatic change in her demeanor as Mr. Dunphy fled and the women were reunited. The four victims remained together pending the arrival of the police, which was swift.
The Audi was driven at speed through the rush hour traffic and when the road was blocked by queuing cars, mounted the pavement in order the more quickly to reach the car park where they planned to set it alight and change vehicles. Parents seeing this driving were incensed, but instead of remonstrating, fled to safety when they saw the car, now parked, go up in flames. A father taking his two children into school saw the culprits making their way to the white van waiting nearby. One of them was carrying a petrol canister in one hand and a handgun in the other. When their eyes met, in the presence of his children, the father was threatened: “Fuck off”. You’ll get yourself in there, if you know what’s good for you. Although one of the victims had been threatened with being shot, it is right to say that this was the first time that any witness had actually seen a gun in the possession of the would-be robbers. The father did what he was told, taking the children into the safety of the school before coming straight back out, just in time to see the white van being driven away from the area. He made his call to the police at 8.43am.
Avoiding the main roads and using country lanes, the Peugeot made its way back to Braithwell. There Mr Dunphy’s nosy neighbour saw him changing the plates on the van. She made a written record of the false plate, and then of the original plate; apart from misreading one letter, her record, which was later handed to the police, was perfect. She was never to see her neighbor again.
Driving his own Audi, Mr. Dunphy left Braithwell at 9.32am and made his way straight back to Manchester. By lunch time, he had been reunited with his girlfriend in Worlsey. Not knowing that he had been recognised changing the plates, and having taken the usual precautions of the seasoned criminal regarding his smart phone, he felt untouchable. He was therefore surprised when the police came to call at the flat he shared with his girlfriend on the Thursday morning. In the search, they found a wig and a pair of Nike trainers (rather cheaper than the more distinctive Balenciagas), both of which were similar to those seen worn by the robber on the bank’s CCTV security footage. In due course, after his denials to the police, in the course of an identification procedure, the third employee (and the fourth victim) to have been kidnapped the area manager identified Mr. Dunphy as the aggressive man in the wig, wearing the false beard.
In the light of the verdicts, the Judge heard statements read out from each of the three kidnapped employees dealing with the impact that the offending had had both on their lives and those of their families not least the two children of the first victim. For the sake of their privacy, the details do not merit repeating here. The effects have been profound and, together with the other relevant matters, the Judge bore them well in mind as he considered the appropriate sentence.
Once sentence had been passed, in his closing remarks the Judge commended the work of the entire investigating team from South Yorkshire Police. He also ordered a payment out of central funds to the ‘nosy neighbour’, whose details the Court already had.
Copyright Nicholas Campbell Q.C. 2018, all rights reserved.