Two original members of the Hatton Garden burglary team pulled out of the operation on the eve of the gang’s successful escape with a £14m haul of gems, a court heard yesterday.
Brian Reader, 76, the oldest ringleader and known as “The Master” by fellow gang members, failed to show up after a first failed attempt to break into the basement vault that held 999 safety deposit boxes in the heart of London’s jewellery district.
A second man, Carl Wood, lost his nerve while waiting outside the building on April b4 to continue a job that had been delayed by 48 hours because of mechanical problems, said prosecutor Philip Evans.
Mr Wood, 58, was pictured by street security cameras walking off alone while the dwindling members of the team eventually forced their way into the vault and jemmied open 73 security boxes in England’s largest ever burglary, Woolwich Crown Court was told.
While Reader was spotted by police surveillance officers with other members of the gang in the weeks after the raid, Mr Wood broke off all contact with his partners-in-crime, the court heard. When police raided his home, they found no sign of any jewels from the raid.
The court heard that Mr Wood had quit the team after discovering that a door that the group expected to be open to get into the building had been unexpectedly locked.
Secret recording probes planted by police in two of the ringleaders’ cars recorded the fallout from Wood’s decision to pull out, the court heard. More than a month after the raid, one of the ringleaders, Terry Perkins, 67, was recorded as saying: “He thought we would never get in…I said give it another half hour. We’ve done everything we can do, if we can’t get in, we won’t be able to get in will we?”
The court heard Wood and Reader were among five men inside the safety deposit centre on April 2 when they drilled through thick concrete, but were scuppered by metal cabinets bolted to the floor on the other side.
Two senior members of the gang then travelled to Twickenham to buy a powerful pump to uproot the cabinets, the court heard. They returned to the building to try again on April 4 –without Mr Wood and Reader – and emerged with two wheelie bins and several bags stuffed full of jewellery, the court heard.
One of the ringleaders, Daniel Jones, was later heard boasting on the secret police probes about the scale of the burglary following another high-profile success by a member of the gang. “The biggest cash robbery in history at the time and now the biggest tom [jewellery] history in the fucking world, that’s what they are saying… And what a book you could write. Fucking hell.”
Perkins was heard boasting about what he would do with gold they recovered. “I’m going to melt my good gold down … The Indian, the 18, that could be my pension if I could get half an idea of what’s there, you know what I mean…”
Members of the group were under police surveillance within two weeks, the court heard, and were being secretly recorded by mid-May sniping about the fact that others had been brought in to hide and dispose of the proceeds.
“The circle, by now, had widened beyond the original circle of trust … This widening made its original members increasingly nervous,” said Mr Evans.
After lying low for several weeks, members of the gang met at a car park outside the Old Wheatsheaf pub in Enfield to divide up the loot on May 19. Police were watching the car park and arrested the alleged plotters on the same day.
During a search at the home of one of the men, they found a book entitled Killer with a page bookmarked that detailed an attempt to drill into a vault, the court heard.
John Collins, 74, of Islington, north London; Jones, 60, of Enfield, north London; Perkins, of Enfield; and Reader, of Dartford, southeast London, have all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit burglary. They will be sentenced at a later date. One of the raiders, a man known only as Basil, remains at large.
Mr Wood, 58, of Cheshunt, Hertfordshire; William Lincoln, 60, of Bethnal Green, east London; and Jon Harbinson, 42, of Benfleet, Essex all deny conspiracy to commit burglary. A fourth man, Hugh Doyle, 48, of, Enfield, north London, denies conspiracy to conceal, convert or transfer criminal property.
The case continues
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