Whatever happened to Brinks-Mat?

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The Independent Culture
The moment: In the early hours of Saturday 26 November 1983, six armed robbers slipped into the Brinks-Mat warehouse in Heathrow, posing as relief guards. Confronting genuine security workers, they ripped off the uniform of one of the guards, doused him in petrol, and told him that if he did not reveal the combination for vaults containing the gold, they would set him alight. Once in the vault, they removed 6,800 Mars-bar-size ingots of gold, worth more than pounds 26m, that were being stored overnight before being transferred next morning to Hong Kong.

How could it happen? The military style precision of the operation took everyone by surprise: workers in the warehouse did not even realise that the vaults' contents were so valuable: "I knew it was run by Brinks-Mat but I didn't realise that there was pounds 26m in one corner in there," said one. The thieves' detailed knowledge of the Fort Knox-style security system allowed them to enter undetected. Once they had let themselves in through the front door with a duplicate key, they took advantage of the disabling of the alarm systems at 6.30am to allow security staff to get in to start work. Surprisingly, it is now thought that the robbers expected to find a mere pounds 1m in the vaults.

The casualties: The gold markets were the first to suffer. Within a week of the robbery, gold prices had risen dramatically, ironically increasing the value of the stolen bullion by pounds 1,100,000.

The robbers did not stay free for long: their detailed knowledge of the security arrangements alerted the police to the possibility that an insider could be involved. A security guard, Anthony Black, was questioned, and his testimony later secured the convictions of two of the gang - his brother-in-law Micky McAvoy and Tony Robinson ("The Colonel").

A surveillance operation to track down the other criminals resulted in a policeman, John Fordham, being stabbed to death in the grounds of the person he was tracking, Kenneth Noye. Noye was later cleared of murder, claiming self defence, but was jailed for 14 years for his part in laundering the stolen bullion. Other members of the gang which fenced the ingots were arrested and jailed: four of them, who together laundered more than pounds 14m, were each sentenced for between five and 10 years in 1992.

Moments of subsequence: The gold has never been fully recovered. Police say that half of it was smelted and sold back to legitimate dealers, including Johnson Matthey, to whom it belonged. Much of it ended up as expensive jewellery. The rest, worth more than pounds 10m, was buried and remains undiscovered. However, last year it emerged that Kenneth Noye reached a secret out-of- court settlement in which he is said to have surrendered more than pounds 3m.

As this Tuesday - the 13th anniversary of the robbery - approaches, police still want to talk to Noye. Though he was released from jail for his part in the robbery two years ago, police are also trying to contact him about other incidents including the road rage killing in which a motorist, Stephen Cameron, was stabbed to death on the M25.

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