Man denies James Bond-style robbery of £1.5m from BA jet

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A stowaway thief allegedly tried to steal £1.5m from a British Airways plane in a "James Bond"-style robbery, the Old Bailey heard yesterday.

The prosecution said that Rawson Watson's "daring and cunning plan" was only foiled when cargo handlers at Heathrow airport dropped a box in which he was hiding after travelling in the lining of a Boeing 767 during a return flight to Madrid.

Christopher Hehir, for the prosecution, said Mr Watson had planned that the cash and himself would be unloaded while concealed in two boxes, which would then have been smuggled out of the airport.

Mr Watson, 37, of Gillingham, Kent, denies attempting to steal a quantity of banknotes from British Airways, and damaging an aircraft in a way likely to endanger its safety in flight. The court heard how experts believedthe damage to the cargo hold could have greatly increased the risk of fire and could have damaged the fire protection system.

Mr Hehir said the alleged thief had been smuggled into the hold of the plane on 26 January 2000 at Heathrow. He cut two slits in the lining of the special valuables hold and placed a plastic bag containing flat-packed express-handling boxes, various tools and bags of ballast. He climbed inside and taped the slits closed as the plane made its way to Spain.

There, new passengers got on and six plastic valuable holders containing £1.5m in pesetas were loaded into the hold, Mr Hehir said.

On the return flight, the stowaway climbed out and constructed the boxes. But things did not go to plan, Mr Hehir said. The man cut himself, leaving blood samples. He had intended to empty the money from the six boxes into one large box and refill them with ballast. But he realised the green nail varnish he had brought would not hide his attempts to seal the boxes.

So, Mr Hehir said, he decided to "cut his losses" and placed the damaged box containing more than £200,000 in the express delivery box, and himself in the other.

Mr Hehir told the court: "He might well have succeeded if loaders at Heathrow had not dropped the box, forcing him to run off ... The lid of the box fell off and a man fell out. The loaders were absolutely flabbergasted. One thought it was a dead body. He [Mr Watson] ran off telling one of the loaders: 'Don't worry about me, I'll be all right.' "

Mr Hehir continued: "This was a bold and daring attempt to steal money ... a cunning plan ... A thief, no matter how much his activities may smack of a James Bond adventure, is still just a thief."

Mr Watson later claimed he had been in West Africa at the time of the alleged theft attempt but the prosecution said he did not have a valid passport for the period.