Rabbi: Diligent boss unrecognisable now

A ST John’s Wood Rabbi described the corrupt Hampstead safe depository boss Milton Woolf as a “diligent” man who was “ever present” at the synagogue.

Giving character evidence on behalf of Woolf, Rabbi Jeremy Gordon said the shamed businessman had regularly attended New London Synagogue on Abbey Road.

The defendant had led the committee responsible for appointing Mr Gordon after the death of the previous rabbi.

Rabbi Gordon told Southwark Crown Court last Friday that Woolf had a “strong sense of responsibility to the community and a broad understanding of what it is to be a Jewish person in contemporary society”. But he added: “Since his arrest, he is almost an unrecognisable man.”

The court heard that in the aftermath of the raids at his business, Woolf has separated from his wife.

Rabbi Gordon said the events had also had an impact on the defendant’s teenage daughter.

The rabbi said the stress of the case had taken its toll on Woolf physically as “his hair has receded and his posture has been broken.”

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Referring to reports from the time of the raids that criminals had stashed up to a billion pounds at the safe deposit centres, he said: “He has been under the most immense pressure.

“It is very much a sense that I have, knowing Milton, that he’s been living the life of a convicted felon under the over-arching allegation that one billion in cash was expected to be found, and that 90 per cent of the boxes were assumed to contain criminal material.

“It has been a tremendous burden for crimes not charged, and certainly not convicted.”

Woolf’s barrister Andrew Bodnar also told the court how his client’s reputation has been “destroyed in this case.”

Further support for Woolf has come from his neighbours who argued that he was simply a “victim of circumstances”.

One woman from Golders Green, who preferred not to be named, described him and his wife as a “very nice couple”.

She told the Ham&High: “I didn’t know them socially, but I knew his wife to see. They lived here quite a while. I’ve been here 16 years and they were here for quite a lot of that time.

“I just think it was circumstances. You go to any storage unit in London and you don’t know what you’ll find in there. You can’t expect them to X-ray every box.

“He certainly wasn’t part of a big mafia organisation. They were just an ordinary couple – they weren’t flashy or anything.”

Woolf moved to the UK from South Africa in 1976 and is said to have bought a majority share in the Safe Deposit Centres Ltd in 1998 from the firm’s founder Leslie Sieff.