LONDON — Detectives believe the gang came out of retirement for one last job.
A sophisticated crew of senior citizens stands accused of pulling off one of the greatest jewel heists in history. Thieves walked out of a seemingly unbreakable vault in London’s diamond district with the contents of 72 safety deposit boxes worth an estimated $300 million.
Two men in their 70s and one aged 67 were arrested in police raids six weeks after the audacious break-in, which remained undetected for five days. Flying Squad detectives arrested 10 men in total and seized what they described as a “significant amount of high-value property”—the world’s most wanted retirement fund.
Brian Reader, 76, clutched his chest as police officers led him away from his $1 million mock-Tudor home in the suburbs outside London. His son, 50, with whom Reader runs a small used car dealership, was also arrested. About 20 officers with forensic equipment and metal detectors combed the property and its large gardens looking to uncover a stash of loot or evidence that could tie the men to the scene of this extraordinary crime. The Readers were among eight men charged with conspiracy to burgle; neighbors described an ill-tempered family who were “filthy rich” and a recent heated row between father and son.
If the heist is to end in recriminations, it began with a beautifully conceived and executed plan. No one was hurt and there was no sign of forced entry as the men used the quiet Easter bank holiday weekend to abseil down a lift shaft and breach the vault at the heart of Hatton Garden, the traditional centre of London’s diamond trade.
As the caper was re-created from surviving snippets of CCTV footage, the suspects were given nicknames including The Old Man, Mr. Ginger, and The Gent. A police source told the Daily Express: “They are proper old school.”
In the weeks after the raid, police officers made a number of appeals to the public, but diamond merchants who had lost some of their most valuable stock were growing increasingly frustrated. Many of the traditional traders chose to secure their diamonds at Hatton Garden Safe Deposit instead of paying huge insurance costs to protect themselves from theft. One of them lost almost $1 million in stones.
Jewel traders and retired criminals lined up to suggest the merchandise would have been moved out of the country within days—if not hours—of the heist. Many claimed it would be too late for the police to catch the crooks. They missed one potential opportunity to foil the robbers by electing not to respond to an alarm that sounded at the vault in the early hours of Good Friday on April 3. A private security guard who attended the scene could see no disturbance and left.
It’s clear that the criticism stung the Metropolitan Police’s elite Flying Squad. Speaking at a press conference after the arrests, Commander Peter Spindler said: “At times we’ve been portrayed as if we have acted like Keystone Cops. But I want to reassure you that in the finest traditions of Scotland Yard, these detectives have done their utmost to bring justice to the victims of this callous crime.”
Eight men have now been charged and one more arrested in connection with the heist. As well as the three senior citizens, there were four men in their 50s and two in their 40s. One of them, Hugh Doyle, a mustachioed plumber and heating engineer, is described as the “perfect gentleman” by former clients. His Facebook page outlines him as a keen sailor and the proud holder of a pilot’s license. Terry Perkins, 67, who lived nearby in the North London suburb, is a property developer.
Scotland Yard ordered the closure of some roads in Central London and dispatched a helicopter to monitor the convoy of police vans taking the eight men to Westminster magistrates’ court on Thursday. Some of the suspects struggled to hear the judge, who remanded them in custody until the next hearing on June 4.
Six weeks ago, a group of men in high-visibility jackets walked up an alley off Hatton Garden and slipped through a fire exit, without any sign of damage, into the large office building that housed the security box company. It was 8:23 p.m. on Thursday and the security team had locked up for the long bank holiday weekend just four minutes earlier.
Once the door was open, the Gent and two other men, Mr. Strong and Mr. Montana, arrived with tools, two purple hold-alls and two large trash cans on wheels, one of which is believed to have contained a 77-pound industrial drill.
The men made their way to an office on the third floor, which was not protected by the kind of fortifications that barred their way to the safety deposit boxes. From there, they were able to jam the elevator and rappel three stories down the shaft into the basement where the vault was located.
An alarm was tripped four hours after the men had entered the building but the security guard dispatched to the scene could see no evidence that a team of highly trained criminals was toiling away inside. The police say they would have made the same calculation if they had visited the address at the same time. Mr. Ginger was seen near the door around 1 a.m., the last sign of movement for the next seven hours.
Once they had used bolt-cutters to enter the deposit company they began the arduous task of drilling through the 7-foot-thick reinforced concrete walls of the vault. Three boreholes were required to make a makeshift shaft wide enough for the men to slip inside. Once inside the safe, it was a relatively easy task to break into the safety deposit boxes.
Around 8 a.m. on the following morning, the men walked out of the side exit, placed their tools into an awaiting van and drove away in broad daylight. But the heist had only just begun.
The following night, a Saturday, the men returned with more tools and spent another seven hours deep inside the building. They reappeared, with The Old Man struggling to push one of the trash cans, early on Sunday morning.
Until Hatton Garden sprang back to life after the Easter Monday holiday, no one had any idea what had just unfolded 15 feet below one of London’s busiest streets.