Swindle `undermined entire bank system'

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An elite gang of criminals including Kenneth Noye, a suspect in the M25 road rage murder, plotted one of the biggest crimes in history which could have undermined the entire banking system, a court heard yesterday.

The gang joined forces to steal hundreds of millions of pounds from cash- point machines in an international swindle, the court was told. But the operation, which involved using corrupt British Telecom employees, was foiled when police caught the gang red-handed.

Noye, one of Britain's most wanted men and who is hiding abroad, was named as an important associate of the team. Seven men yesterday admitted conspiracy to steal cash from banks, building societies and financial institutions. They each face up to seven years in jail when they are sentenced next month. Judge Jeffrey Rivlin QC said: "The conspirators had dreams of realising vast amounts of money possibly running into hundreds of millions of pounds." The criminals had intended to bribe BT workers to tap into lines that run between cash dispensers and the main banking computers. Confidential information from customers would have been downloaded using computer equipment, decrypted and used to make thousands of bogus cards. These would then be used to withdraw money from cash-points throughout the world.

The court heard the conspiracy was foiled when a computer expert turned informer. Martin Grant was recruited by the gang while serving 16 years for attempting to murder his wife and her child. Police caught the gang when they raided the home of one of the conspirators in July 1995 and found five of the men and computers ready to encode thousands of cards.

Ann Curnow QC, for the prosecution at Southwark Crown Court, said: "Had the conspiracy succeeded, the banking system of this country would have been put at risk."

Massive security surrounded the case, with police marksmen stationed around the court, and on roofs. John Lloyd, a "close associate" of Noye, was described by the judge as "one of the main organisers" of the scam. Miss Curnow said: "Noye played a prominent role in various meetings organised by Lloyd in connection with these matters.''

Noye, 49, is the prime suspect in the M25 road-rage killing of Stephen Cameron, 21, who was stabbed to death at Swanley, Kent, in May.

Noye, cleared of the murder of a policeman in the grounds of his home in Kent in 1985 after pleading self- defence, served eight years of a 14-year term for handling stolen gold from the pounds 26m Brinks-Mat robbery in 1983.

Lloyd, who was also wanted for Brinks-Mat, fled the country to Florida shortly after the job and a pounds 10,000 reward was put on his head. His wife, Jean Savage, was jailed in 1992 for five years at the Old Bailey for handling stolen bullion from the robbery.

The gang members are Lloyd, 57, Paul Kidd, 36, Graham Moore, 32, Stephen Seton, 65, William Hayward, John Maguire, 36, all from Kent, and Stephen Moore, 41, of Leytonstone, east London.