Detectives foiled plot to kidnap airline official

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UNDERCOVER detectives foiled a plot to kidnap an airline official, hold his family hostage and steal millions in cash and valuables from an airport security vault, an Old Bailey court was told yesterday.

Police posed as members of the robbery gang after being told by an informer of a 'sophisticated' plot to rob a security vault at the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, warehouse at Heathrow Airport. Peter White, 35, an airport warehouseman from Heston, and Carl Harrison, 30, from Hounslow, both west London, pleaded guilty to plotting to kidnap Ian Blake, a KLM airline cargo supervisor.

Jurors were told that they planned to steal cash, gold, precious stones and jewellery between March and December last year. Harrison also admitted possession of a firearm with intent, and White admitted possession of a firearm without a certificate.

Harrison had originally pleaded not guilty, but changed his plea after an unsuccessful attempt by his defence counsel, David Jeffreys QC, to have the undercover police evidence excluded.

Judge Bruce Laughland rejected Mr Jeffreys' argument that Harrison was encouraged, if not provoked, by undercover officers to carry out a crime he would not otherwise have committed. Judge Laughland, outlining the case, described it as 'unusual and sophisticated'.

He told the court how White, who forged references to obtain a job in the KLM warehouse, conceived a plan to rob the vault. Together with Harrison and two other men named as 'Egham Pete' and 'Spike', they planned to kidnap Mr Blake at his home in Staines, Surrey, and force him to open the vault.

If Mr Blake refused to co-operate, his wife and daughter, who were also be taken hostage, would be used to coerce him.

White and Harrison believed that the vault contained between pounds 5m and pounds 50m in valuables being carried in transit by the Dutch airline. When they attempted the raid the vault contained pounds 5.3m, police revealed. The plan came undone when White approached a man, named in court as 'Derek', and asked him to help move White's share of the haul out of the country after the robbery. Judge Laughland said that Derek, a criminal White had met in prison, was also a police informant.

The court was told that Derek agreed to fly the valuables abroad from an airfield in Elstree, Hertfordshire. He also informed detectives from No 9 Regional Crime Squad, based at Barkingside, east London, who launched an investigation codenamed Operation Daedalus.

Judge Laughland said that 'Egham Pete' and 'Spike' 'dragged their feet' and were 'elbowed out of the conspiracy'. Detectives used that opportunity to insert two undercover officers, named only as 'Frank' and 'Jimmy', into the gang.

Detectives secretly tape-recorded 40 hours of meetings where the robbery was planned and provided vehicles for the gang. Police surveillance of Harrison showed him reconnoitring Mr Blake's movements to and from work. After the robbery the gang planned to go to a safe house to divide up the haul.

Hours before the gang planned to strike police moved Mr Blake, 50, and a neighbour from his home. Despite detailed reconnaissance Mr Blake's wife and daughter were not staying at home when White and Harrison launched the raid, the court was told.

Armed police ambushed the gang when it struck. Later police said that if the robbery had been successful the haul could have surpassed the pounds 26m Brink's-Mat robbery on another high-security warehouse at Heathrow in November, 1983.

Both men will be sentenced today.