Gang accused of £40m jewel heist 'were disguised by professional make-up artist'

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The Independent Online

Two armed robbers, disguised by professional make-up artists, walked into one of London's most exclusive jewellery stores, took a female staff member hostage at gunpoint and then fled with £40m worth of gems, a court heard yesterday.

In Britain's biggest jewel heist Aman Kassaye and Craig Calderwood are alleged to have dressed in suits and walked past three security guards at the Graff Diamonds store in New Bond Street, Mayfair, before turning their handguns on staff.

The store manager, Martin Leggatt, was forced to lie on the floor with a gun at his head while Petra Ehnar, a shop assistant, was told to empty the store's display cabinets or she would be killed.

The men then left the store and went into the street where, the jury was told, Mr Kassaye, 24, fired a shot at a passer-by who tried to intervene, before both men fled in a BMW.

Philip Bennetts, for the prosecution, told Woolwich Crown Court that Mr Kassaye and Mr Calderwood, 27, conspired with seven other men to carry out the "high stakes" raid on 6 August last year. Mr Bennetts said that the gang used a series of getaway cars and manoeuvred several vans and trucks to obstruct traffic and delay the police.

Yesterday the two men went on trial alongside Soloman Beyene, 25, Clinton Mogg, 42, Courtney Lawrence, 31, Gregory Jones, 30, Thomas Thomas, 45, David Joseph, 23, and Benjamin McFarlane, 22. They all deny conspiracy to rob.

Opening the case for the prosecution, Mr Bennetts said: "You will hear that those involved in this conspiracy used professional make-up artists to disguise their appearance.

"The only means of obtaining access to a store such as this would be to change one's identity in that way. Guns were employed to terrorise staff so that the jewellery could be taken.

"A gun was employed to take a young female assistant hostage so they could make their way to a getaway car waiting outside. Guns were employed to threaten any member of the public who bravely attempted to intervene.

"The robbers shot at anybody who pursued them. They had come prepared to use weapons."

The jury was shown mobile telephone footage of the moment the shot was fired in the street. Raised voices and shouting can be heard outside the jewellers; then there is a loud bang and people can be seen running for cover.

Mr Bennetts said: "It introduces you, does it not, to something of the atmosphere of that day... The end result is that those involved succeeded in their goal. The terrified employees handed over the jewels. The robbers made their getaway, and the jewellery that they took has not yet been recovered."

Mr Bennetts said that the victims were "the real centre of this case, not the value of jewels that were taken".

The court also heard extracts from Ms Ehnar's statement to the police. The shop assistant had worked at the store for just three-and-a-half months before the raid. She told detectives of the moment she was taken hostage and forced to hand over the gems, which included a £3.5m diamond necklace. "I was so scared, I just waited for his instructions and prepared myself for what was going to happen."

She went on: "This was the first time I had ever been subjected to an armed robbery and I was petrified... It is the most terrifying experience a person can be put through as you have no control over the situation. All I could hear was the white man saying: 'If anyone moves we will kill you.'"

Recalling how she was taken outside at gunpoint as the men made their escape, she said: "I could really feel the gun was now being pushed into me... The next thing I heard was the gun being fired and the noise was so loud. I realised I wasn't shot because I was still in one piece."

The court heard details of the elaborate getaway. At one point the BMW the men were in crashed into a taxi and mounted the pavement. But the men got out and gave the bag of rings, bracelets, necklaces and watches to a waiting motorbike rider before fleeing in another getaway car. At this point another member of the public who attempted to intervene was shot at.

The jury also heard how Mr Kassaye and Mr Calderwood were allegedly made up at Charles H Fox on the day of the robbery after claiming they were taking part in a music video. They asked to be "aged to 60" and were originally given latex masks, but Mr Calderwood allegedly complained it made the men look too old and eventually they opted for shading to "bring out the lines of ageing". They left the studio at 2.20pm, less than two hours before the robbery.

The seven other men on trial are accused, variously, of hiring the vans involved in the getaway, using false names and addresses to buy the "dirty" mobile phones involved in the heist, and driving one of the blocking vehicles.

As well as conspiracy to rob, Mr Kassaye is accused of kidnap and possession of firearms. Mr Calderwood is also charged with possession of firearms. They deny all charges.

The trial continues.