Cops and Robbers: The Biggest Ever Great British Heists
News of bank heists and jewellery store robberies, scams and thievery, captures our imagination like little else. It’s always a given that, upon news breaking of the latest huge-scale heist, newspaper headlines will be screaming about the event almost immediately, and talk of the crime will dominate all other pub patter for weeks after.
We’ve had our fair share of large-scale robberies and financial crime here in Britain, many of which have been truly mindboggling in terms of scale, not to mention sheer audacity. Here are a few of the biggest, boldest, and most audacious financial crimes this country has ever seen.
Securitas Depot robbery: £53million
As you might expect of a heist that is known as Britain’s largest cash robbery in history, the Securitas depot robbery in Tonbridge, Kent was splashed across the headlines of every newspaper when the story broke on the morning of 22nd February 2006.
At around 18:30 on the evening before, the unsuspecting manager of the depot, Colin Dixon, was pulled over on the A249 just outside Stockbury, Kent, by what he presumed to be an unmarked police car – the blue lights behind the grill and the uniformed man in a high-vis jacket, wearing what appeared to be a policeman’s hat gave him no reason for suspicion. This was only the beginning for what would be a long, long night for the unfortunate manager and his family.
Although Mr. Dixon ultimately escaped unharmed at the end of it all, along with his wife and 8-year old son who were both kidnapped by another group of fake policemen, upon being taken to a nearby farm in the area he was told in no uncertain terms that both he and his family would face serious harm if he didn’t co-operate with the group in liberating the vast amounts of cash being in a number of cages at the site. The Securitas robbery took place swiftly, starting at 1:00 in the morning and finishing nearly two-hours later – the alarm was quickly raised an hour later by staff members who were able to free themselves from their cage.
The group of thieves made-away with a staggering £53,116,760 in bank notes on that evening, although their time of enjoying their newfound riches was short-lived. Most of the gang were promptly caught by police in sting operations across the Kent and Greater London region, while two more gang members were arrested at a shopping centre in the Moroccan capital of Rabat.
To this day, much of the stolen money remains unrecovered. It is unknown if any of the robbers are still at large.
Hatton Garden Safe Deposit robbery: Up to £200million
This supremely audacious robbery in the heart of London’s jewellery district, which was first reported on the 7th April this year, happened over the Easter bank holiday weekend at the Hatton Garden Safety Deposit company.
Even now the fine details of the robbery remain something of a mystery – there was no sign of forced entry to the premises. Rather, a gang of burglars are believed are believed to have entered 88-90 Hatton Garden via a lift shaft on the 2nd April and, between then and the early hours of Easter Sunday, the gang used a heavy duty diamond-tipped Hilti D350 cutting device to punch a 50cm deep, 25cm high, 45cm wide hole through the walls of the vault – suffice to say the tiny size of the hole through which the thieves are believed to have used to get into the vault has left police baffled.
Around 70 secure boxes containing cash, jewellery, and other valuables were emptied by the gang, whom CCTV footage captured leaving and then returning to the site a number of times over the bank holiday weekend.
It is not known exactly how much was stolen by the thieves, but a figure of up to £200million could have been lost according to reports. Two arrests have been made so far, and while it is hoped that much of the jewellery will be recovered, police admit this is unlikely.
Such has been the grievous damage to the company’s reputation, Hatton Garden Safety Deposit company’s owners have since announced that the business has now gone into liquidation.
The Great Train Robbery: £2.6million (equivalent of £50million today)
Even though it took place over half a century ago, The Great Train Robbery of 1963 is still considered to be the country’s most legendary, not to mention infamous robbery in the minds of the British public.
Following a tip-off from an individual with insider information, known as ‘The Ulsterman’, a 15-strong gang of thieves, led by Bruce Reynolds, hatched a plan steal the sizable £2.6million in cash which was being transported by a Royal Mail express train on the Glasgow-to-London route on the evening of Wednesday 7th August 1963 – the rest, as they say, is history.
After setting-off from Glasgow at 18:50, the train’s journey was initially unremarkable. However at just after 3:00am on the morning of 8th August, the Royal Mail train was forced to a halt at a red signal light at Sears Crossing in Bedfordshire – the train driver found out to his misfortune that he had fallen into the hands of the waiting gang of robbers, who had sabotaged the signal light. After overpowering the driver, whom they beat unconscious, the robbers forced open the carriage holding the money, subdued the guards inside it, and then transferred 120 sacks of money into their waiting ex-army truck.
The robbery was over as quickly as it had begun, ending just 30 minutes after the train was first hijacked. The gang made away with £2,631,684, the bulk of which was in £5 and £1 notes that evening – or over £50 million in today’s money – although a series of arrests soon after ensured that few of the gang members actually got to enjoy the benefits of their ill-gotten gains.
Carbanak Cyber-raid: £650million
This last heist differs from the others, in that no tangible cash, gems, jewellery or gold was stolen, in that it was a spot of old-fashioned bank robbery, only with a quintessentially modern-day twist.
To call the Carbanak robbery, which took place on 16th February this year, a mere financial hack would be a gross understatement – the Carbanak cybergang stole £650million in what was the largest theft ever committed. After infecting the networks of over 100 financial institutions across the world, they infiltrated the compromised bank’s computer systems with sophisticated malware in order to gather the data needed to impersonate bank staff and transfer millions of pounds at a time into dummy accounts.
Over a 2-year period, the Carbanak group helped themselves to up to £10million with each successful raid before cybersecurity company, Kaspersky Lab, finally uncovered the scam. With banks in the US, China, Europe, and, of course, Britain having been struck, this cyber robbery took place on an unprecedented global scale.
As of yet the gang members, who are believed to be based in Russia and the Ukraine, are yet to be caught.
Financial crime: entertaining to read about but unviable as a means of building wealth
While these tales are certainly interesting and entertaining, there is a moral of the story. If there’s anything that this list of heists and capers teaches us, it’s that crime really doesn’t pay in most instances – the protagonists who committed these crimes more often than not had little time to enjoy their ill-gotten gains before the police caught up with them. The efficiency and effectiveness of modern policing, combined with a little human error, makes committing financial crime a risky business.
So if you’re dreaming of fame and fortune, and you’ve started thinking that a well-engineered heist of your own could be the lucrative, fun winning ticket, don’t do it – it’s not. Ask for a pay rise instead.
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