Christmas Day raid netted up to £5m in jewellery

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Up to £5m of jewellery was stolen during the Christmas Day raid on Harvey Nichols' flagship store in Knightsbridge, London, one of the richest hauls from a shop robbery in British history.

Dozens of unique items each worth hundreds of thousands of pounds were taken by the armed gang which went straight to the jewellery department after tying up a security guard. Among the displays targeted were those containing items by the Italian designer Rinaldo Gavello, whose customers include the singers Luciano Pavarotti and Grace Jones and the actress Rachel Weisz.

The store's sales director, Patrick Hanly, said: "It was clearly a very well thought out heist and not some kind of impulsive smash and grab. Most individual pieces are kept in secondary storage, normally a safe. We call these the signature pieces and they are very rare and very expensive. You cannot get some of these items anywhere else in the world.

"I don't know which pieces are missing but if it was a number of those very precious items, then ... the real cost could be several million [pounds], perhaps five."

Staff will be carrying out a stock-take today to calculate the total value of the stolen items.

Detectives from Scotland Yard's Flying Squad believe the raid would have taken weeks of planning.

The robbers, who wore balaclavas and were armed with guns, appeared to know they would be able to enter through a staff door at the rear of the building and that alarms on some floors would be switched off. They spent more than an hour in the jewellery department on the ground floor and seem to have known which displays contained the most expensive items.

Police have been studying footage from security cameras and forensic science officers have checked for evidence.

Mr Hanly admitted that early on Christmas Day was the best time to rob the store as the fewest staff were on duty during that period. "The heist must have been planned a long time in advance by someone who knew what they were doing," he said. "There would have been around five or six cleaners cleaning each floor and two security guards at the time."

In May, £1.5m of cash and jewels was stolen from Versace's store in Old Bond Street.