'Pink Panther' gang convicted of pounds 1m jewel raid plan: 'World's best safe cracker' was mastermind of plot to steal gold, platinum and diamonds from Cartier

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The Independent Online
A 'PINK PANTHER-STYLE' gang was found guilty yesterday of planning a pounds 1m raid on Cartier, the jeweller, in London.

The team, led by one of the world's top safe crackers, planted bugging devices and used expensive equipment for what would have been a 'beautifully executed operation' similar to those in the Pink Panther films, Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court was told.

The target was a safe packed with gold, platinum, diamonds and other gem stones. But the plan was accidentally foiled when gang members wearing balaclavas were seen on roof-tops by a police surveillance team on another operation. Two fled by abseiling 70 feet down the back of a five-storey building in New Bond Street. A third was seen climbing through a skylight.

The mastermind was Roy Saunders, 60, of Elizabethan Way, Crawley, West Sussex, who has opened safes legitimately for the police in the past. He is regarded as probably the best professional safe- breaker in the world and was caught as he crouched in the basement of a shoe shop next door. Arrested with him were Robert French, 45, a locksmith from Romford, Essex, and Robert Reed, 49, a building developer from Islington, north London .

The three were all convicted of conspiracy to burgle Cartier last October.

They were remanded in custody until 10 August for pre-sentence reports. An earlier trial of the three last March resulted in a hung jury.

Peter Moss, for the prosecution, described their escapade as a 'beautifully executed operation'. One of the gang posed as a window cleaner the day before the raid to check on security.

In addition, halogen floodlights were disabled, which in turn rendered the video cameras useless. Bugging devices were planted in Cartier's workshop, a mainly glass construction on the top of the five-story building, to monitor the movements of Group 4 staff responsible for security.

Mr Moss said that on the day of the raid Reed's car was loaded with safe-breaking equipment worth between pounds 3,000 and pounds 4,000. It included endoscopes - special fibre-optic tubes to examine the internal workings of locks and safes - key cutting equipment and specially sharpened drills including a limpet drill designed to be magnetically attached to a safe.

The court was told that several times that evening the burglar alarm in the building was set off by gang members to persuade security guards to either turn the system off or regard it as faulty and ignore the alarm should it sound during the break-in.

But their planning went wrong when the alarm went off and police stationed on nearby roof-tops spotted them.

Reed, and French, both claimed they had been planning to raid the shoe shop and the offices in the building next to Cartier.

Saunders, insisted he had been too drunk to remember anything of the evening and did not know why he or his equipment were there.

Mr Moss said Saunders and French were of previous good character. And convictions against Reed had occurred so long ago they were regarded as spent.

Remanding all three in custody Judge Fabyan Evans said he regarded their crime as one of 'gross dishonesty'.