A member of the gang that tried to steal £200m of diamonds from the Millennium Dome told an Old Bailey jury yesterday he and his fellow conspirators planned to snatch the gems in a five-minute raid.
William Cockran, the first defendant to give evidence, said that after smashing their way into the vault in a JCB digger the gang had intended to break through bullet-proof glass protecting the diamonds in 27 seconds. A powerful speedboat waiting near by would have taken the gang across the Thames.
"It would have been five minutes – maximum," Mr Cockran said.
He and two other gang members were then due to go to the Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe, south-east London, where the collection of gems, including the Millennium Star, would have been exchanged for cash, he told the court. The defendant said he had been wearing body armour because he feared that the people buying the diamonds might try to double-cross him.
"Within a matter of 20 minutes they would have had the diamonds and we would have the money and we would have been finished," he said.
But an informer had tipped off the police and detectives arrested members of the gang as they crashed into the Dome.
Mr Cockran, 49, a plumber from Catford, south-east London, said he was offered £100,000 to take part in the raid by Ray Betson, whom he had known for 20 years. "When he first approached me I was taken aback. I was shocked. I believed he was joking when he told me," Mr Cockran said.
He said the raid was partly an inside job planned with information from a man called Tony who worked at the Dome and a policeman who patrolled the attraction. The court has been told that PC Michael Waring, an officer with the Metropolitan Police, is related through marriage to Mr Betson. The officer, who worked at the Dome, has given evidence denying defence suggestions that he had offered to provide information on security.
Mr Cockran told the court: "I thought it [the plot] was pie in the sky. But after going round there I could not believe the security was so light."
He said his job was to break into the cabinets housing the diamonds. "I am in the building trade so I know about glass and that stuff," he said. His plan was to weaken the glass with a nail gun, then smash it with a sledgehammer.
On 7 November 2000, the raid was launched. Mr Cockran and two others were covered with a sheet in the back of the specially modified digger at a coal yard near the Dome, the jury heard. They were armed with ammonia spray and smoke bombs, and wearing gas masks and body armour.
Undercover Flying Squad officers arrested Mr Cockran, Robert Adams, 57, Mr Betson, 39, and Aldo Ciarrocchi, 31, inside the Dome. The four have all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal but deny the more serious charge of conspiracy to rob.
Kevin Meredith, 34, is alleged to have driven the speedboat that was to be used for the escape. He denies charges of conspiracy to rob and to steal.
Terence Millman, 56, who died of cancer last year, was arrested on the other side of the river in a van that was to be used as a getaway vehicle.
The trial continues.