Dome robbery suspect comes from wealthy family of scrap metal dealers

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One of the 11 men arrested during the failed attempt to steal diamonds worth £350m from the Millennium Dome comes from a wealthy family of scrap metal merchants.

One of the 11 men arrested during the failed attempt to steal diamonds worth £350m from the Millennium Dome comes from a wealthy family of scrap metal merchants.

Details of the backgrounds of the suspects became known yesterday as the police prepared to charge several men with robbery offences after detectives foiled one of the biggest attempted heists in history.

One of the arrested men was Jimmy Wenham, 38, who was seized in the Kent village of Horsmonden shortly after four robbers used a stolen digger to smash their way into the Dome's Money Zone in an attempt to steal 12 diamonds.

Officers were examining a silver Mercedes car with a personalised number plate parked next to farm buildings set in surrounding fields on Tong Farm in Brenchley, a village near Horsmonden, yesterday.

Mr Wenham was a member of a family of travellers who lived on the farm, which was bought at auction in March for £220,000. Local residents described how a fence was recently put up around the land. A large warehouse is located on the site, as well as a number of outbuildings.

The Wenham family, who moved to the area about seven years ago, is said to have made money from buying and selling scrap metal and conducts business largely in cash.

Armed police arrested 11 men on Tuesday morning as robbers were caught in a carefully prepared trap.

Four men wielding sledgehammers and a nail gun tried to smash open the case containing 12 valuable diamonds, owned by De Beers.

But the Metropolitan Police was waiting - armed officers disguised as cleaners surrounded the gang and arrested them. The real gems had been switched with fakes the day before the robbery. Two other men were arrested near by, one aboard a speedboat waiting on the Thames. Five more were arrested in Kent.

Meanwhile, the Millennium Dome had a new attraction yesterday - the scene of the spectacular botched diamond heist. Although the JCB digger used in the crime was removed and the vault remained cordoned off, the Money Zone was open for business.

Lucy Pratt, 28, of Broxted, Essex, was making her second trip to the Dome. "I have come back for another day out with a friend and we shall get to see the scene of the robbery, if it is not too busy with crowds."

The scene of the heist could become one the most sought-after sites for visitors and boost the ailing attraction's attendance figures.

Police in Kent were yesterday continuing to question three of the suspects: Mr Wenham and two unnamed men aged 44 and 62, who were arrested in Collier Street, a nearby village.

Detectives were questioning the suspects about a failed robbery attempt in July when a gang blocked a Securicor van at Aylesford, near Maidstone, but fled in a speedboat along the river Medway.

Two other men aged 58 and 34 who were arrested in Horsmonden, Kent, were taken to London yesterday. It is believed that they are to be questioned by Metropolitan Police detectives about another failed heist in which robbers attempted in February to break into a security van loaded with £2m as it left a depot in Nine Elms, south London.