LANCASHIRE'S toughest criminal investigation ended when the gunmen who murdered Chorley businessman David Wilson five years ago were convicted at Liverpool Crown Court last week.

Falklands war veteran Stephen Playle, aged 35, and his co-accused Michael Crossley, 34, both of Kent, were handed life sentences.

The convictions followed those of American Michael Austin, 41, also for the murder, and of Oldham-born Stephen Schepke, 49, for of aiding and abetting him. They too were given life sentences.

Much earlier in the hunt, Roderick Oliphant received a nine month sentence for attempted deception and Michael Sammons two years for fraud.

The investigation was worldwide. Detectives, led by Supt Bob Denmark, discovered that the crimes centred around a multi-million pound Marlboro cigarette fraud.

Austin, was the Mr Big. He arranged for David Wilson to be killed, using Schepke, who hired lifelong friends Playle and Crossley, to carry out the assassination.

David Wilson, who had been arrested by the Metropolitan Police, had become embroiled in the scam but gave information to police when he realised what was happening.

Crossley and Playle, armed with handguns with silencers, went to Mr Wilson's luxury secluded home Withnell Villa, Withnell, on the night of March 5, 1992. They kept his daughter Michelle, now 31, who was in the house alone, prisoner for two hours until her father and the family returned home.

Mr Wilson, his wife Barbara and their two daughters Michelle and Lisa, now 29, and Lisa's fiance Mark Stephenson, of Skelmersdale, were tied up.

Mr Wilson was taken outside and shot twice in the head and the gunmen fled into the night.

At a police press conference after the last week's trial, Mr Denmark said Michelle and Lisa did not feel up to speaking to the press.

Tragically, as the re-trial of Austin neared its end in February, their mother Barbara fell ill and died in hospital.

He said their state of mind was understandable but they had prepared a written statement.

It said: "We would like to take this opportunity on behalf of ourselves and the rest of the family, particularly our mother and father, to finally thank everyone for the support and dedication shown to us over the past five years. "Justice has at last been done and we hope to close this tragic chapter in our lives and look to a more peaceful future."

Mr Denmark broke his silence about David Wilson's involvement in Austin's multi-million pound scam.

He said: "I think David was foolish and got involved in enterprises he should have recognised as dangerous. He probably did get involved in what he recognised was a scam to sell to people cigarettes which were not what they purported to be.

"I am absolutely sure he intended to deliver to people who paid money some goods equal in value to the money paid.

"I am also certain he put his own life at risk by taking steps to protect his clients."

"This brings to an end what has been probably the most difficult and certainly the most lengthy criminal investigation undertaken by Lancashire CID," he said.

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