Police find stash of robbery cash in van

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The Independent Online

Large amounts of cash from Britain's biggest robbery have been found in a van abandoned near the Channel Tunnel. The discovery yesterday afternoon has increased fears that the armed gang who took up to £50m from a cash depot in Kent have fled the country.

The white van, believed to have been used by the six-man gang of robbers, was found in the car park of the Ashford International Hotel in Ashford, Kent.

Police are investigating whether the raiders split up the money in the car park and transferred it into waiting vehicles.

A white lorry used to transport up to £50m in cash stolen from the Securitas warehouse in Tonbridge has not been seen since surveillance cameras filmed it being driven out of the depot at 2.15am on Wednesday.

The development came as police appeared to be closing in on the robbery gang. Detectives have recovered several getaway cars and published a picture of one of the raiders.

A woman was also arrested when she tried to open a building society account with a bundle of banknotes bound with tape marked with the name of the cash depot where the raid took place. A man and a woman arrested in London were questioned about the robbery.

The gang kidnapped Colin Dixon, 51, the manager of the Securitas depot in Tonbridge, his wife Lynn, 45, and their son Craig, who was nine yesterday, and threatened them at gunpoint. The family was taken to the warehouse where the robbers overpowered the staff.

Much of the money stolen was newly minted and would be extremely difficult to spend without causing suspicion.

Forensics officers, supported by armed police, unloaded two massive black polythene-wrapped packages at the car park in Ashford yesterday.

Two officers struggled to load the two packages, which were 3ft by 3ft by 1ft high, into the back of an unmarked police car.

One witness said: "It was unbelievable. Two very beefy policemen struggled to lift these packages - they must have weighed about 150kg. It has got to contain millions. They were surrounded by armed cops - they weren't taking any chances."

The van was found after a member of the public contacted the police. The hotel is near to a junction for the M20 and less than five miles from the Channel Tunnel.

Police are studying CCTV footage of all traffic going through the tunnel and have alerted law enforcers abroad.

Earlier in the day, Mr Dixon, the Securitas manager, helped police compile an e-fit of one of the robbers, who had posed as a policeman in order to trick the manager. The manager believed the criminal was probably wearing a false ginger beard, so a second image showing the suspect clean shaven was produced.

A 41-year-old woman was arrested on Thursday afternoon at the Portman Building Society in Bromley, south London. Staff called police after she pulled out a bundle of banknotes - thought to be several thousands of pounds - held together with tape marked "Tonbridge". She was later released on bail.

Police have yet to confirm whether the money was among the cash stolen, and stressed the woman could be innocent.

A 29-year-old man and a 31-year-old woman, arrested on Thursday in south London, were released on bail last night.

Another potential break-through is the discovery of a Volvo, which is thought to have been disguised as a police vehicle and used to abduct Mr Dixon as he drove home from work.

A similar looking car was found on fire in Burberry Lane in Leeds near Maidstone just before midnight on Thursday in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence. Mr Dixon's car was also found abandoned in a pub car park in Detling, Kent.

A third vehicle - a red van with Parcelforce graphics on the sides has been abandoned at the Hook and Hatchet pub in Hucking, near Maidstone. Police suspect it was used in the abduction.

Detectives released new details about the kidnapping yesterday. It now appears that Mrs Dixon and her son were picked up at their home in Herne Bay, Kent, at about 8pm on Tuesday by two men pretending to be policemen.

They were driven in a car then transferred to a red van - probably the one discovered at the pub. They were then taken at gunpoint to a farm building, where Mr Dixon, who had been handcuffed and put into the back of the Volvo, was also probably taken.

The mother and son were forced into the back of a white lorry and taken to the cash depot in Tonbridge. Mr Dixon was taken separately in the Volvo to the warehouse where he helped the armed men get into the building. Once inside they tied up the 14 members of staff and the Dixon family. The gang loaded up the lorry with new and used banknotes and escaped at 2.15am on Wednesday.