The heist: Britain's biggest gem robbery

Britain’s biggest gem robbery could have been scripted in Hollywood. Rachel Shields reports
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The Independent Online

The raid on Graff the jeweller, in central London's Bond Street, had all the makings of a blockbuster movie: hi-tech disguises, fast cars, sharp suits.

In just minutes, and with no casualties thus far, two men stole £40m worth of jewellery and diamonds and then disappeared. Now there is a nationwide manhunt backed by a reward of up to £1m for information leading to their arrest and prosecution.

The raid, on Thursday 6 August, was planned meticulously. Its leading men were in good spirits as they set it in motion. At a studio in Covent Garden, they laughed and joked while an unwitting make-up artist layered on latex and kitted them out with wigs – supposedly for a pop video – ageing them by decades in a matter of hours.

Rendered virtually unrecognisable, one of the men joked that even his mother wouldn't have known him. In truth, his mother was the last thing on his mind: the priority was to thwart CCTV cameras.

It was late afternoon by the time the smartly dressed duo climbed out of a taxi in one of London's most expensive streets. Once buzzed into Graff's, the men drew handguns concealed in their clothing and pointed them at the terrified staff. Few words were spoken as the pair picked out the choicest trophies – stuffing their bag with items including a yellow diamond necklace and diamond hoop earrings – but enough for the staff to notice that both had London accents. Just moments after they entered the store, they grabbed a female member of staff and headed for the exit. Firing warning shots, they jumped into a waiting blue BMW, abandoning their hostage. The high-speed getaway was equally worthy of a Hollywood script: speeding through Mayfair, the robbers crashed into a black cab.

At Dover Street they dumped the BMW and handed the jewels to a waiting motorcyclist. They are then thought to have jumped into a silver B-class Mercedes, in which they drove through Berkeley Square, before later switching to a less conspicuous blue Volkswagen Sharan people carrier.

With the robbers gone to ground, the police are now combing the CCTV footage. Pictures released yesterday show the two men outside the store on Tuesday 4 August – which would suggest that they had planned to carry out the robbery two days earlier.

Officers are also hoping that a gun abandoned at the scene might provide DNA clues. The rubber masks tried on by the men at the make-up artist's studio – a touch which might have been inspired by Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible – will also be examined for evidence.

Britain's biggest jewel heist wasn't the only recent event which might have been written in Hollywood. A court in Thailand was treated to the latest instalment of a story which has already been given the Tinseltown treatment: the tale of the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was immortalised by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 film Lord of War. When the court ruled that Bout, a man dubbed "The Merchant of Death" for supplying weapons to Colombian rebels, wouldn't be extradited to the US to be tried, it was an uncanny parallel with the ending of the film, in which Cage's character is held but escapes jail.

Meanwhile, intrigue has been building around the disappearance of Finnish cargo ship Arctic Sea, which vanished off the coast of Portugal two weeks ago after being boarded by a group of men pretending to be policemen (see report on page 36). The Russian navy was dispatched to find the ship and, after days without any news, conspiracy theories are building. Yesterday these were fuelled by a reported ransom demand, and alleged sighting off west Africa.