Four men were today convicted Monday of plotting to steal diamonds worth more than £200 million from the Millennium Dome in London.
The heist, had it succeeded would have been the largest theft in history, but it was foiled by a huge police operation.
The men were sentenced to between 15 and 18 years in prison for what judge Michael Coombe called "a wicked and highly professional crime."
Prosecutors told the court that the gang planned to steal the 203–carat Millennium Star diamond by smashing into the Dome with an earth–mover before escaping by speedboat across the River Thames in a heist reminiscent of a James Bond movie.
The robbery was carefully planned – but police had been watching the gang for months. Officers dressed as cleaners were waiting and arrested the men as they attempted to smash through the armored glass case holding the diamonds with a sledgehammer on 7 Noivember, 2000.
The Millennium Star and accompanying 11 Millennium Blue diamonds – part of an exhibit sponsored by De Beers at the riverside tourist attraction – had been replaced with crystal fakes as a precaution.
"The conspiracy was so well–organized it almost succeeded," prosecution lawyer Martin Heslop told the jury.
The jury of seven women and five men at the Old Bailey deliberated for nearly seven days before reaching majority verdicts.
Aldo Ciarrocchi, abed 32, Raymond Betson, 40, William Cockram, 49, and 57–year–old Robert Adams were found guilty of conspiracy to rob.
The four had pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of conspiracy to steal, and stressed that they had not been armed during the robbery – though they did carry ammonia and set off stink bombs to scare away bystanders.
A fifth man, Kevin Meredith, 34, was convicted of conspiracy to steal. Meredith, the skipper of the boat waiting to whisk the gang across the river to safety after the heist, received a five–year sentence.
Another suspected gang member, 56–year–old Terence Millman, died from cancer before he could stand trial.
"The fact is this was a wicked plan and one which was carried out to the minutest detail," the judge said said.
De Beers declined to place a price on the diamonds, but said the £200m value cited by the prosecution was "not unreasonable."
The Guinness Book of Records says the world's largest gem theft was carried out in August 1994 by three men who stole items valued at dlrs 43 million from a jewelry shop in the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France.
The Millennium Star is arguably the most perfect large diamond in the world and the third–largest ever discovered, according to De Beers.