A newspaper editor went undercover with the Metropolitan Police to help capture a man who murdered his landlord and fled to Thailand.
Stuart Crawford was this week convicted of bludgeoning Michael Ryan to death and stealing more than £7,000 to fund his getaway – allowing Sutton Guardian editor Matthew Knowles to tell his story for the first time.
Knowles’ involvement began with an email from Crawford and ended with a dramatic trip to Thaliand on a joint undercover operation with the Met.
Here are some excerpts from the story published in this week’s Sutton Guardian:
The email was short and to the point. ‘I have information about the brutal murder of Michael Ryan. I want to tell you my story.”
It was signed Stuart Crawford and arrived on my computer from a Yahoo account on Friday lunchtime in March last year.
As a reporter, I am used to receiving tip-offs on all manner of stories.
However, I would never have suspected this email would lead to an undercover police operation which resulted in the arrest and conviction of a wanted killer.
I recalled the murder of Michael Ryan, a genial grandfather who was found battered to death and rolled in a carpet in his flat in Devonshire Road, Sutton, in September 2008.
The man suspected of his killing was his lodger, who flew out of Britain shortly afterwards.
Months went by and the case slowly became another unsolved statistic.
This could be the break in the case was looking for. I did not want to scare him off with too many questions but I needed to see if he was genuine. I sent an innocuous email back asking for more details.
His reply came at 3.55am and was blunt and to the point.
‘I will tell you my story then return to the UK to face the music. I will call you when the time is right.
‘I want £20,000 for my full and accurate story, half now, half after. Non-negotiable.”
I convinced him to send over proof of his identity and he sent his driver’s licence along with the startling admission he was Mr Ryan’s lodger and would be confessing his crime.
He revealed he was staying in Bangkok, Thailand, and had fled the UK on September 5, two days after Mr Ryan’s killing.
He wrote: ‘I don’t want to keep running. I need to tell what happened and why. I can’t live with myself for keeping this information to myself. I will be confessing to what I did on the 3rd of Sept 2008.
‘I’m not really a bad man but the last five or so years have been very difficult for me but nothing can condone what I did.”
Bizarrely, he also negotiated his fee down to £5,000 without prompting and demanded an instant payment of £1,000 to be transferred by Western Union. It was time to call the police.
Detective Inspector Bob Campany, a murder detective with 15 years experience of the darker side of south London, and his colleague Detective Sergeant Danny Gosling, had been chasing Crawford since his flight.
As part of a cunning plan it was agreed I would continue to contact Crawford to maintain continuity while they worked behind the scenes to secure an international arrest warrant.
Fittingly on April 1, 2010, I began an undercover police operation to fool Crawford into thinking the Sutton Guardian would pay him substantial sums of money in order to hear his side of events.
He eventually faxed the contract back on June 14, and had even unbelievably included his full home address in South Pattaya, 90 miles south-east of Bangkok, where he originally claimed to be living.
Crawford was understandably still very frustrated with the length of time everything was taking and was very suspicious.
He wrote: ‘I really hope that you are being straight with me Matt? I do realise that you could easily be sharing all this with the police, after all you now have a signed confession to his murder.”
We had managed to keep Crawford’s interest for more than three months, far longer than we imagined it would take to get the documentation the police needed to arrest him.
We realised Crawford was absolutely desperate to get his hands on some money and was genuinely scared of being apprehended by the authorities in Thailand.
We could use his fear and desperation to our advantage and decided to delay the process further by telling him I was on holiday until the end of July and our lawyers were still thrashing things out at head office.
Things were moving ahead at a pace with the police and we were just days away from getting the warrant, so it was time to step things up in the sting.
I told Crawford I was going to fly over to meet him very shortly and needed him to agree to a set of security arrangements, which included letting us pick the location we should meet.
We knew where he was living and had Interpol confirm it was legitimate.
It was originally planned to lure Crawford to a hotel so Royal Thai Police could ambush him there. But in the end, as he had so generously provided his address, it was decided to arrest him at his house.
He had no idea what was about to happen.
I received a text from Detective Inspector Campany on August 5 telling me officers from the Royal Thai Police had raided his home.
After more than two years on the run, the man who battered Michael Ryan to death had been caught.
We exchanged more than 60 emails over a five-month period and these emails formed a major part in unravelling Crawford’s lies in a week-long court case.
Prosecutor Philip Bennetts chose to use Crawford’s email to the Sutton Guardian to end the prosecution case.
The email, sent from Thailand, was read out in court. It said: ‘Yes, I will be confessing to what I did Matt. I’m not really a bad man. I know I need to be punished. I will accept my fate.’
Bennetts said: ‘Crawford will not accept his fate. The truth could be too awful for him to accept – that he killed Michael Ryan purely for greed.”