Wife of villain wanted for £53m Securitas raid tells why she believes he was murdered


Last updated at 14:24 03 February 2008

People stop and stare whenever Therese Lupton so much as goes to the shops for a loaf of bread. They nudge each other and sometimes point. “She's the one whose old man got away with all those millions,” she hears them mutter.

Curiously, some even make plain their admiration, reflecting the way some in our society applaud villains who pull off a “big one” and flee beyond the reach of justice, no matter the misery they may have left behind.

Therese's husband is Sean Lupton, Britain's number one fugitive - the man who is believed to have escaped to Northern Cyprus, possibly with £32million of the £53 million stolen from the Securitas depot in Tonbridge, Kent, in February 2006.

Last week five of the gang were convicted of kidnap, robbery and firearms offences at the Old Bailey.

They had brutally kidnapped the depot manager, his wife and their young child and used them to gain entry to the site. Police recovered £21million but the rest of the cash, along with Lupton and several others, slipped through their fingers.

Therese, meanwhile, remains in the Kent seaside town of Whitstable, where she works as a £7-an-hour legal secretary. She returns each night to her two teenage children, to the three-bedroom detached house her husband built for them in “happier times”. Often she fears for their safety.

Despite what some of her neighbours may think, she says that “there is nothing glamorous about believing you may be in danger”.

Sometimes she believes the police are watching her too: she is absolutely certain they are bugging her phone.

Everyone, it seems, is awaiting her next move.

So did he really get away with it? Is Sean Lupton really sunning himself beside a swimming pool?

And will Therese join him there?

“There's no way he got away with anything like that much - he was too dim and would have been caught by now,” she says.

“And, besides, I've got good reason to believe he was murdered.”

But if he was still alive, she says she'd still have no interest in living the high life.

“You wouldn't prise me away from my garden, not for a life of looking over my shoulder,” she says.

Leaning forward, her mood suddenly lightens and she smiles mischievously.

“I”ll tell you what though, love, you'll laugh when I tell you his favourite film - Ocean's Eleven. He watched it repeatedly in the months before the robbery.”

The Tonbridge raid may have been Britain's biggest cash robbery but it hardly compares to Hollywood's slick Las Vegas casino heist.

And judging by his police mugshot, Sean Lupton is no George Clooney either.

But if movie bosses ever need a gangster's moll of the Barbara Windsor variety, they could do worse than call on 47-year-old Mrs Lupton.

Just under 5ft tall, she has pretty but heavily made-up features framed by well-cut bottle-blonde hair. Her nails are carefully manicured.

She is sharp and tough; she rarely lets her guard, or even a tear, slip - despite what she has been through.

Her account of the events surrounding the robbery and the extraordinary strain it placed on her family is delivered dispassionately and is full of references to people such as Mr X, whom she claims she cannot name for fear of underworld reprisals.

Occasionally she lapses into language straight out of the sort of ropey Guy Ritchie gangster film her husband also loved. She refers to the day of the robbery, for instance, as the day “the job went off”.

And to complete the picture, she helps out at her local boxing club, “getting the gloves and gumshields ready”.

Therese is annoyed that many people assume she is sitting pretty, a phone call away from a stolen fortune. The reality, she says, is quite different.

“There are people out there involved with this who wouldn't think twice about killing me and my children if I said the wrong thing,” she says.

Therese believes her husband was murdered on December 10, 2006, the day he went missing.

She thinks he was most likely killed in a row over the spoils from the raid, after being summoned to a meeting with a dangerous criminal - the man she calls Mr X.

“Even if I was wrong and he was to ring up and ask me to come and join him, there is no way I would go.

"I don't believe in living off crime. It sickens me to think he was involved. I have always lived a quiet law-abiding life and that is what I will continue to do.

"I'm angry about my husband's involvement in all this, even if he wasn't a major player. I have been left in a state of limbo, struggling to pay the mortgage, unable to sell my house, unable to get a divorce. People forget that.”

So just who is Sean Lupton? In many ways, Therese is only just beginning to find out.

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They first met at a party in Lupton's home town of Herne Bay in 1983.

He was a hod carrier and a successful amateur boxer who had endured a difficult childhood with foster parents.

She was a secretary, the daughter of an engineer and one of three sisters from a close-knit South London family.

Within six months they were engaged, within another six married.

“I liked him because he was down-to-earth and worked hard. He seemed a good man,” she says simply.

He neither drank nor smoked, preferring to concentrate on boxing and keeping fit.

“He was an ordinary guy with an easy, open way about him which people liked. He was popular.

"He may have nicked some bricks off building sites now and again but so did a lot of people in his trade.”

She noted nothing more sinister until 1994 when Lupton did something which, if we are to believe Therese, altered their relationship completely.

He was convicted of a robbery at a petrol station in Broadstairs and served 15 months.

“He”d robbed the guy as he was walking across the garage forecourt with the takings, several thousand pounds.

"He wasn't armed but I think the guy fell to the ground and broke his glasses.

"Sean was grassed up and he was arrested.

"I was completely shocked. I couldn't believe it.”

She considered divorce but dismissed the idea for the sake of their young son Jordan and daughter Jasmine, now 16 and 18 respectively.

But she says: “It was the kiss of death as far as our marriage was concerned. I felt I couldn't trust him any longer, as if he'd had an affair.

“When he got out I was constantly checking up on him, although he promised he wouldn't do anything like it again or mix with any criminals.”

Therese says that after that as far as she was aware her husband went straight - although in the build-up to the Securitas raid she would become worried about the company he was keeping.

“He seemed to be working hard. He had his own business doing building jobs, such as extensions, and I did his books.

"He started a boxing club for youngsters in Herne Bay and he would take Jordan along. He also liked scrambling bikes. That was what he spent his money on, not much else.”

He built their house in 2000, funded mainly from the sale of a bungalow he inherited when his grandmother died.

“We were a normal family,” says Therese. “We ate together, always had a Sunday roast. We may not have gone on many holidays abroad - we never went to Cyprus, before you ask - but we did have a beach hut at Herne Bay.”

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Early in 2005, however, Therese says she became concerned about Sean's friendship with used car dealer Stuart Royle, one of the five men convicted of the Securitas robbery last week.

“Sean said he knew Royle through a mate of a mate. They were spending more and more time together and I was worried because Sean mentioned that he had been inside for some kind of computer fraud.

“I thought he sounded dodgy. I confronted Sean about it many times but he brushed it aside, saying things like, 'Oh, he's all right.'

"They met many times, often in a fish and chip shop in Whitstable. Obviously these might well have been meetings about the Tonbridge job.

"Sean did some work for him, as well, fixing a thermostat on his swimming pool.”

Royle also sold Sean a small Transit van - which is significant given that it later emerged that it was Royle's job to supply the vehicles for the raid, although Lupton's van is not thought to be one of those that were eventually used.

On the night of the robbery, February 21, 2006, Therese was at a parents' evening at her daughter's school.

“I got home about 7.30 and Sean was already home with Jordan, who he'd picked up from dancing lessons. Sean had EastEnders on and then we had a meal. We went to bed between 11pm and 12pm.

"Sean seemed his usual self, he wasn't on edge or anything and he slept like a log.

“In the morning I was watching the breakfast news, as I always do, and the story about the robbery came on.

"I was horrified but Sean was as cool as you like. He'd caught the tail end of it and was laughing, making a joke of it.

"It stuck in my head that he said, 'What did they say, that the gang was from Herne Bay?' But they hadn't said that.

“I asked him if he was involved. I can't remember the words I used, but he denied it.

"He didn't act out of the ordinary. But then he never let his emotions show. He was always detached, particularly since his spell in prison.

"And he went off to work that morning as normal.”

A week later Royle, along with 16 other members of the gang, was arrested.

“When he saw it on the news, Sean said something like, 'Bloody hell, that can't be true.' But that was all.

“I tried to question him about Royle but he wouldn't have it. He said it must be a mistake.”

At this stage, Lupton must have been under considerable pressure, but he didn't let it show, says Therese.

“Looking back he was a bit more touchy than normal, but that was all.

“Around this time I got the impression that we were being watched. It was just an instinct - I can't remember exactly why I felt this way. I mentioned it to Sean but he just laughed it off and said not to be stupid.

“Much later I learned from the police that we were under surveillance for several months between the raid and Sean's arrest.

"At this stage I was getting paranoid. I had trouble sleeping at night, and it was making me ill.

“Then one night I noticed a man acting suspiciously in a car parked next to mine outside the boxing club. He was looking at my car and making notes. He shot off when he saw me.”

In October 2006, Therese received a letter that seemed to confirm her fears.

“It was in a red envelope and was addressed to 'Tracey Lupton'. It was written with a black felt-tipped pen and was all in capital letters.

“Inside was a white sheet of A5 paper. It said, 'SEAN LUPTON TALKS TOO MUCH. STOLE MY MONEY. TONBRIDGE JOB. PEOPLE DON'T LIKE IT.'

“I flipped. I rang Sean at work and he came home.

"He took it off me and said he would find out where it was posted from.

"He said I should ignore it and not to worry. But I was in a state.

"I didn't go to the police with it because I was too scared.”

It is when she describes these events before and after her husband's arrest that her powers of recall sometimes seem to diminish.

She puts her inability to remember much of what they discussed down to the sleeping pills and anti-depressants she was taking.

Therese says that when Sean was arrested in November 2006, he was “as cool as a cucumber”.

“They came at 6am. Sean jumped out of bed and answered the door in his tracksuit bottoms. I wasn't far behind him.

"There were about 20 officers, one with a video camera, and they said they were arresting him on suspicion of conspiring to commit robbery and kidnap.

“He said something like, 'You must be joking,' but there was this strange smile on his face.

"They let him go upstairs to get a shirt and he came back down. He passed Jasmine who was sobbing in her room and then on his way out kissed me on the cheek.

“The police turned the house upside-down. I told them to look under the bed where they'd find the letter but when they saw it they didn't seem that interested. They said they thought it was someone trying to cause mischief.”

At 8pm the same day Sean arrived at home, having been freed on bail. “He'd got a lift home and just walked through the door. The police who raided the place hadn't long gone.

“The first thing Sean said was, 'Who's doing the boxing?' He had just been nicked for Britain's biggest robbery and all he was interested in was his boxing club.

“I was still in a state of shock. I was saying, 'Look, I need to know whether you are involved, I need to know what I am dealing with.'

"Again, he'd brush it aside, the barriers came up. He just said they asked him about this and that, about his connections with Royle, but it was nothing to worry about.

“That was easy for him to say.”

In the following days, he appeared to have “a lot on his mind”, although Therese can't recall how his unease manifested itself, beyond saying he was “more grumpy than usual”.

Three weeks after his arrest, Sean went missing.

“The day began like any other. He was up first and called in on the kids, moaning at them to get up.

“I keep thinking now that if he knew he was running away that day surely he would have gone in to give them a hug, or tell them he loved them or something. Although I can understand why he didn't do that with me, as our marriage hadn't been good for some time.

“He was doing a job about five minutes' drive away, a big extension. I remember him moaning about it.

“I called him later that day, about 6pm, to see if he was coming home for tea. He said he had to see a friend and then he said he was going to see Mr X.

“He said he wouldn't be back for tea but that he wouldn't be late.

"They were his last words to me. I knew Mr X was dangerous and that he was connected to Stuart Royle. I was worried but Sean didn't sound any different - but then he never did.”

Therese rang her husband at 11.30pm but his mobile phone was switched off. She rang every half hour throughout the night but could not raise him.

“Jasmine and Jordan went off to school in the morning but I didn't tell them anything. I made some excuse about where their dad had gone.”

She rang her sister Michelle and together they rang around all the hospitals. She rang the police that evening but was told at first that there was little they could do because he was “a grown man”.

But when she explained her husband was on bail over the Securitas robbery, they sent a team of officers straight round to her home.

“I also thought he may have done himself in and drove around the area with my father looking for his van.”

A week later, police found it parked and locked in Dover, suggesting that he had skipped across the Channel.

Detectives have told Therese that he was spotted by an old classmate in a bar in Paris watching a Chelsea match on television, although they believe he eventually fled to northern Cyprus, which has no extradition agreement or diplomatic relations with Britain.

Therese was not convinced, saying “he wouldn't be able to leave our children - they are his only blood relatives”.

When Christmas passed without word from her husband she became certain he was dead. “He loved Christmas, he was going to take Jordan to buy a new mountain bike.”

She says the following month was a nightmarish blur in which her children cried themselves to sleep each night.

“In February I went looking for answers and began by talking to as many of his friends as I could.

"They all said that he was a lovely bloke and that he would never leave me and the kids.

"Through them I was put in touch with some of his criminal associates, people I suspect knew about or were involved in the raid. Some approached me.”

She was told by these “rough characters” that Sean had been given £2.5 million from the raid to launder, although she doesn't know whether he had the expertise to be able to do so or how he would have attempted going about it.

“He left school without qualifications and came across as a bit dim.

"Maybe he was involved in the planning of the raid as well but he wasn't involved on the night - he was at home with me,” she asserts emphatically.

Nevertheless it was this money that led - Therese is not quite sure how - to a dispute with the mysterious Mr X, who, she says, killed her husband.

“I told one of Sean's associates about Mr X. He didn't say much then but he later told me, about four months ago, that this Mr X killed people.

"He said Mr X had also been given a £2.5 million share from the raid to launder but that he hadn't done what he was supposed to with it.

"He said he had been told by someone who knew about these things that Mr X had killed Sean.

“Around the same time someone completely independent of this man also spoke to me about Mr X.

"He said Mr X had been pestering Sean for a meeting and that if he didn't go and see him he would come looking for me and the kids.

"There is some talk that he wanted Sean's share as well. It is not clear.”

If there is any truth in the story, it would reflect the panic and recriminations that followed the arrests of many of the gang members.

But it is by no means certain that this was Sean's fate. As recently as Friday, it was reported that he had been spotted in Northern Cyprus.

“Sounds rubbish to me,” said Therese.

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